Our celebration of Black History Month at the YMCA continues. DID YOU KNOW? Rev. Anthony Bowen was the founder of the first Black YMCA in the United States.

Rev. Bowen was born into slavery in Prince George’s County, MD, in 1809. He was able to moonlight as a painter and bricklayer, and after saving enough money, he purchased freedom for himself and his wife for $425 in 1830 and moved his family to Washington, DC.

His commitment to inclusion and service made an enduring legacy in the nation’s capital for the rest of his years. In 1853, Rev. Bowen organized the first Colored Men’s Christian Association just two years after the Y was established in the U.S. Respected in both white and black communities, he was well-known for his leadership in establishing churches, religious instruction, and education for free blacks in the District of Columbia. By the time he died in 1871, Rev. Bowen had become a prominent religious leader and educator, council member of the District’s Seventh Ward, the first African-American clerk at the U.S. Patent Office, and founder and president of the world’s first African-American YMCA.

Read more about the history of Black Americans who were the Firsts in their Fields.