Who’s Afraid of Anna Knight?
Somewhere at the back of her mind Anna had known that things would take a turn for the worse but this particular situation was an unexpected surprise. Her eyes narrowed as she stared down the drunken moonshiners who stood in front of her. They were not the type of men you wanted to mess with, especially not in these parts. Anna was tempted to take a step back as she took in their oily hair, unshaven faces, and mocking smiles but she stood her ground with determination.
“I will tell you again” one of them drawled in his rich Mississippi twang “if’n you don’t stop teaching this here classes you’re gonna have some trouble on your hands”
Anna felt her temper flare. She would not be intimidated by them. “I already told you” she ground out through clenched teeth “I don’t understand how my classes have anything to do with you”
“And we already told you” another one of them shot back angrily “your classes are affecting our business”
Anna sighed. She had only recently come back home to Mississippi from Battle Creek, Michigan, where she’d been studying. She had enrolled in the nursing course at Battle Creek college and the education had opened her eyes in ways that she hadn’t imagined. When she finished her final class she was determined to return to her rural Mississippi roots to make a difference in her local community.
Dr. John Kellogg has been enormously helpful. He had paid for the supplies that she needed to start up a small community health education center. As soon as she arrived home in Mississippi she enlisted the help of her Uncle Abner and restored a run-down cabin in Soso, not far from where she lived in Gitano.
The log cabin soon became a bustling center of influence reaching out to those who lived in and around Soso. As a nurse Anna doubled as a health practitioner and health educator, treating minor ailments and injuries as well as providing preventative health education. On the weekends she ran Bible classes which she advertised to those who attended her health and lifestyle classes during the week.
The community health clinic in Soso was soon a roaring success and began to make a positive impact in the community. Her lectures on the damage caused to the liver by drinking alcohol made a deep impression and soon began making inroads into the community. People stopped drinking and the local moonshine business began to suffer.
The illegally distilled alcohol was big business around those parts and soon the local moonshiners began to notice a sharp drop in their sales. They got wind that an African American nurse was running health programs and warning people to stay away from Alcohol and they decided to act.
They paid Anna a friendly visit at the end of one of her work days and warned her to stop eating into their business.
Standing in front of them now, Anna raised her chin defiantly. “I’m not going to stop teaching the truth,” she said testily.
The moonshiner’s jaw clamped down angrily and he moved his hand to hover over the pistol holstered at his side.
“If you don’t stop” he drawled in a low menacing voice “then we’s a gonna have to take the law into our own hands and stop you”
“Yeah” his friend behind him guffawed “A few well-placed bullets oughta shut you up”
Anna’s eyes flashed dangerously “I’ll have you know that I carry a pistol and a double barrel shotgun” she shot back “and when you’re ready to shoot just know that I will be too”
For a long tenuous moment, the moonshiners and the missionary stared each other down. The tension in the air crackled palpably.
Finally, the moonshiner dropped his hand away from his holster with a wolfish grin. He took a step towards Anna “Well then” he said softly “I ain’t one to shy away from a challenge. We’ll see how long you keep this up, Miss Knight…the road from Soso to Gitano can be mighty dangerous this time of day” with that he tipped his hat to her, turned around and strode out of the little cabin with his friends in tow.
Anna bolted down the road to Gitano as fast as her legs could carry her that evening and when she told her family what had happened they were understandably concerned. She belonged to a large family of poor sharecroppers. Money was scarce and everyone in the family learned to contribute from a young age. Anna was no strangers to hard work or difficult circumstances. Growing up in the deep south soon after the abolition of slavery she was accustomed to being discriminated against because of the color of her skin.
Challenges didn’t daunt the members of the Knight family but they were also smart enough to realize that the situation Anna faced was far beyond just a difficult situation.
They recognized that she could get herself killed. Not only because of her work as a missionary but also because of the color of her skin.
“Are you sure you want to keep doing this girl?” her mother asked somewhat anxiously “maybe you should stop this missionary nonsense and come back to helping us pick cotton on the farm”
Anna shook her head “No, I was educated as a nurse and I intend to use my education to make a difference in the community. I’m not going to let these moonshiners scare me off”
Her mother sighed. Anna was strong-willed and once she had made up her mind to do something there was very little that could be done to stop her.
“Well at least ride one of the horses there and back” her sister suggested “at least that way it’ll be easier to escape if you are waylaid”
Her mother nodded “ride that old horse you trained for me a few years ago. Blaze is a good, dependable horse”
Anna took the horse gladly.
One day as she was riding home after school she heard the thud of hooves behind her. Ducking her head she swiveled around and caught a glimpse of her moonshiner friends thundering towards her. She was on a narrow country lane with fences on either side. Casting one more furtive glance behind her she dug her heels deep into the horse’s flank and hung on for dear life.
Blaze charged down the lane at breakneck speed leaving the hapless moonshiners in the dust, shouting and shaking their fists at her.
They charged after and soon she heard the loud cracks of pistols firing behind her. The bullets whistled past, too close for comfort but not so close that they drew any blood or left a mark. That day Anna managed to escape with her life.
She went back to school the next day determined to continue her work and after a tense few weeks of anxiously looking over her shoulder, she breathed a sigh of relief as she realized that she had seen the last of the moonshiners.
The little school in Soso ambled forward contentedly, without any further interruptions.
A few years later in 1901, John Kellogg paid for Anna to attend the General Conference session. While there she heard of a missionary opportunity opening up in India and put her hand up to go. A few months after that she and her friend Donna Humphries set sail for Calcutta from New York.
Her courage, boldness, and commitment to the Lord’s service led her to become the first African American Seventh-Day Adventist missionary to serve overseas.
- Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories Of Adventist Pioneers (Book 2)
- Pathways to the Pioneers (1998) – Volume 17, Episode 2 (Anna Knight: Girl of Mississippi)
Suki Goonatilleke lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about winning people for Jesus and has served in full-time ministry at Gateway Adventist Center. Her current ministry endeavors include being a stay-at-home mom by day and writer by night.