Anna Knight is among the most influential individuals in the history of African American Seventh-day Adventism and a legendary figure in broader Adventism.
Knight was born in Gitano, Mississippi, on March 4, 1874, to the famed Newton Knight and his daughter Georgeanne. Raised in near poverty, Anna early developed an iron will and steel resolve that would characterize her life. Threatened many times with death, she was known to carry a revolver in her youth and to be an expert marksman.
Anna taught herself how to read and happened upon Adventism through mail-order literature. In order to purchase a Bible she picked cotton; once the good book was in her possession she learned of the investigative judgment. She was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Graysville, Tennessee, in 1893.
Knight obtained a nursing degree under the tutelage of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at Battle Creek College. Kellogg arranged for Knight to be a representative at the Battle Creek General Conference in 1901, so impressed was he by her indomitable spirit and brilliant mind. While at the GC session Knight was impressed to go to India as a missionary and so set off for Calcutta in 1901 the same year, thus becoming the second black Adventist sent by the church on foreign missions (the first was James Patterson who left for Jamaica in 1892), the first black SDA woman, and the first black to do missionary work in India.
When Knight returned from India she established a school and a church in her native Mississippi. Next Knight was appointed an administrator of a hospital for blacks in Atlanta. Knight was a sensation in Atlanta and became famous in its thriving African American community, lecturing and consulting.
In 1922 Anna Knight became the first president of the National Colored Teachers Association of Seventh-day Adventists. In Knight’s nearly 50 years as leader of this association, she was instrumental in financing scores of students’ educations; starting dozens of schools; improving Oakwood facilities; serving as advisor to dozens of elementary and high schools in the South; keeping struggling schools solvent; and speaking at hundreds of conventions on pedagogy and school administration.
Knight was a fixture at Oakwood College for nearly a half a century, beloved and respected until her death on June 3, 1972. Oakwood Elementary is named in her honor.
-Benjamin J. Baker