ANNA KNIGHT EDUCATOR AND MEDICAL MISSIONARY
by Haiyoung Kim
Anna Knight stretched her sun-bronzed limbs out from under her cotton sheets. Although the night had been pleasantly comfortable, hot Mississippi summer nights were just around the corner.
Not far off, Anna could hear her mother scuttling about in the kitchen. Soon Anna would be called on to do her morning chores. Work on the family's 160-acre farm was a never-ending struggle to keep the land productive and the family secure. As an eight-year old, part of Anna's responsibilities included feeding chickens, fetching water, and tending the garden. Today was no different, except for the fact that she would be starting to work for some of the white neighbors that lived nearby, in exchange for learning how to read and write.
Remembering that thought, Anna sprang out of bed and rushed to her mother. "Mamma, I'm a gonna have my first real job, ain't I?" Beaming proudly, Anna announced that she was going to learn how to read and write, just as well as any of the white friends she played with on Sundays. Almost 20 years had gone since the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed, and still Blacks felt the oppression of the White man. Children of African heritage were not free to go to school with Caucasians.
At breakfast, Anna's legs kicked excitedly up and down under the table as she ate her wholesome grits and piping hot cornbread. Dashing off, she kissed her mother, and wished her brothers and sisters a good day.
Many thoughts juggled in little Anna's head. She wondered about the work she'd be doing, and hoped that it would be easy enough for her to handle. Slowing her rapid pace, Anna widened her blue eyes to take in the grandness of her neighbor's house in comparison to her humble home. The white-washed fence, the elegant flowers, and the huge door she knocked on made her feel very small.
When the door opened, Anna met one of the maids who then brought her before Mrs. Williams, the owner of the plantation. Before the day was over, Anna had met the butler, cook, courier, animal caretaker, gardener, and other workers. Besides that, Anna had swept and scrubbed the floors and by evening, Anna had helped with the laundry and learned how to press clothes. Tired though she was, she was determined to have her first lesson in reading and writing.
Pleased with Anna's work, Mrs. Williams called her over, and started to teach her the ABC's. Taking the pencil given to her, Anna slowly wrote out the alphabet. Slightly biting her lip, she carefully tried to make her letters look similar to Mrs. Williams. When she had finished, she broke into a radiant smile.
Day by day, Anna learned to read and write better. At home, in the evenings, she would practice writing on the earth with her fingers or a small stick. Within a few years she had educated herself with an equivalent of a country school elementary education.
Always eager to learn more, she submitted a request from a magazine for reading materials. Of those who responded to her were two Adventists. As a result of the SDA reading materials on the wonderful message of Jesus Christ, she became interested in Adventism. Excited with her new found faith, she shared the good news with her family. Mother was very displeased. In fact, she demanded that Anna choose to leave her faith or her beloved family. Each night, Anna prayed that her family would accept the loving message of Jesus' soon return but their hearts remained cold. Sadly, yet with assurance that Jesus stood beside her, she decided to leave home. Packing her few belongings she also carried the rich promises of Jesus' love.
Anna found her way to Tennessee, where she was baptized and received the spiritual support she needed. From then on her formal education began to blossom when some older friends sent her to Mt. Vernon Academy. After that, Anna went to the Battle Creek School of Nursing.
Desiring to help the underprivileged children in her home state, Mississippi, she opened up an industrial school. Patience and prayer kept her spirits high. Then came a call to go to India as the first Black woman missionary of any denomination. What a struggle to decide! What would happen to her little, impressionable ones who were just beginning to taste the joys of learning? Getting down on her knees, she cried and said, "Lord, You know all things, and all needs. The work is all Thine; the people are Thine in Mississippi, India, and in all the world. Lord, if You need me in India more than in Mississippi, then take away this sorrow out of my heart and stop me from crying all the time about it. If the sorrow and crying is taken away, then I'll know You are calling me to go to India . . . ." No sooner had she finished her prayer when she stopped crying.
Off to India she went, along with another nurse. From pulling out natives teeth to teaching the Bible and English, Anna's experiences made her more dependent on the Lord, as she learned lessons of persevering service, and humility. Dangers unknown to her until later made the love for her Lord grow even deeper.
One day, longing for some fresh vegetables, Anna stopped by at a big bazaar. Tall, native men followed her from a distance. They had big knives. Usually, these men killed foreigners in the market, but God had seen to it that her life was spared.
Conditions in the school Anna had left behind in Mississippi were doing poorly. Again and again, she received letters begging her to come back. One student pleaded, "Why don't you come back and teach us yourself? You understand us, and you are not afraid. Why would you stay over there, trying to convert the heathen while your own people here at home are growing up into heathens?"
Impressed that she needed to go back, she assumed her former responsibilities. As time passed, she moved on to other educational positions within the Adventist school system. Among her many achievements, Anna founded the National Colored Teachers Association. Also, she received the Medallion of Merit Award by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 1972. She became the 12th person to receive this honorable award in the history of the church.
Her full, vibrant, and devoted life to education in Christ ended in 1972, at the age of 98; however, her positive influence lives on.
Her autobiography can be read in Mississippi Girl, published in 1952 by the Southern Publishing Association.