Anna Knight was born into a poor family of sharecroppers in Jasper County Mississippi in 1874. Living in the deep south of America, not too long after the abolition of slavery, Anna and her family endured a considerable amount of prejudice on account of the colour of their skin despite the fact that they were now free. There were no schools for African American children and very little health care. But the Knight family were resilient, hardworking, and innovative and Anna would offer to help the white children in her neighbourhood with their chores in exchange for being taught how to read and write. Once Anna learned how to read and write she began to read anything and everything she could get her hands on.
One day she came across an advertisement in one of the magazines she routinely devoured offering readers the opportunity to receive free books in exchange for a subscription fee of 10 cents. She saved up the ten cents and sent off the subscription fee. One of the packages she received as part of the subscription was a big parcel of magazines and books that had been sent to her by a Seventh-Day Adventist. Later on Edith Embree, another Seventh-Day Adventist, began to send her copies of the Signs of the Times regularly. The content she read in The Signs changed her heart and she began to keep the Sabbath. This created a lot of tension between herself and her family. The family was in the habit of working on Saturday and keeping the Sabbath on Sunday and when Anna began to keep Sabbath on Saturday her family protested that she was lazing around on Saturdays while everyone else was out working hard. Her mother demanded that she go out into the fields with her siblings on Saturday to plough fields and harvest cotton. Anna had a fiery temper and she stubbornly refused to yield her position.
Often on a Saturday morning, Anna woke up at the crack of dawn. Arming herself with her Bible, Sabbath school lesson and the family shotgun she would make her way into the nearby woods. There she would spend the entire day studying her Bible, praying and quietly communing with God. Her family situation didn’t stop her from being faithful to God.
A little while later Edith Embree sent her a copy of Steps to Christ and Anna decided to get baptised. But the nearest Seventh-Day Adventist Church was 382 miles away in Graysville, Tennessee and Edith realised that Anna would need spiritual support and fellowship in order to thrive. With this in mind, Edith wrote to the Southern Missionary Tract Society telling them about Anna and Elder and Mrs Chambers decided to take Anna under their wing to mentor her. She then went to Mount Vernon Academy but faced significant challenges there because of local prejudice against African Americans gaining an education. However, despite the challenges, Anna managed to complete her education at the Academy and then moved on for further studies at Battle Creek College. In Battle Creek Anna trained to become a nurse and was determined to return home to Mississippi to serve God in her home town once she had graduated. Dr Kellogg generously supplied her with the resources she needed to set herself up as a nurse and health educator and, as an added bonus, he paid for her train tickets home as well.
Once she returned to Mississippi Anna restored an old, broken down cabin in Soso with the help of her family and began to run health education classes and a little health clinic servicing the surrounding towns in the county. The little centre of influence Anna set up was soon a success and people began to make significant changes to their diet and lifestyle as a result of her work. She also ran free bible classes on the weekends sharing the gospel with those who were interested. Her own family was convicted about the Sabbath as a result of her labours in Soso.
In 1901 Dr Kellogg paid for Anna to attend the General Conference session and during the meetings, Anna felt called to serve God overseas. After making sure that the work in Soso was taken care of Anna set off for India becoming the first African American Seventh-Day Adventist missionary in the history of the church. She spent 6 years working in India and as a result many people came to know Jesus. She returned home on furlough after receiving news that her little centre of influence in Soso had been burned to the ground. After helping to re-establish the school Anna remained in the States taking up a call to establish a Sanitarium in Atlanta, Georgia in 1909 which would broaden the reach of medical missionary work among African American people in the south.
Anna Knight’s record of service was long, colourful and tireless. She pioneered educational work for African Americans in the south, working with the Southeastern Union Conference and later working for the Southern Union while living at Oakwood College. She spent countless hours travelling across the Southern field training, visiting schools and helping to drive the work forward. She served as the Associate Secretary for the Education, Home Missionary, Missionary Volunteer and Sabbath School Departments in the young Southern Union Conference Coloured Department. When she was 98 years old she served as the president of the Nation Coloured Teachers Association. That same year she received a Medallion of Merit award from the General Conference Education Department.
Anna Knight was a trailblazer. She was unafraid of difficulty and unashamed of the gospel. She stood firmly for principle and served God fervently almost all her life. She serves as an example of what each of us might become if we are willing to wholeheartedly surrender ourselves to God, following him wherever he leads.