A gifted child and prolific reader all her life, Cora Lee Hill Atkins was inspired and motivated at an early age to value education as a function of mission mandates from Jesus himself... "Suffer the little children unto me, and forbid them not." And, she learned as a school-age child that most Black men encountered in her birthplace of Salem, Virginia and beyond into the Finleyville, Pennsylvania graveyard shared with husband William, ... were God fearing souls in the Allegheny Mountains chain bituminous coal veins stretching from Alabama through Eastern Tennessee, Kentucky, Western Virginia, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania.
Indeed, she loved geography lessons, and learned at an early age the vast difference between the Messianic Christian values in States like Massachusetts and Ohio that freed African-Americans versus the Judeo-Christian values in states where people cited biblical passages to rationalize slavery. Cora attended the Virginia State Normal School for Colored Students (now Virginia State University) in Petersburg from which she graduated in 1926 as a classroom teacher.
African-American teachers like John Gandy had taught her truths about the mass dispersions of family members during slavery, and the mental health effects that lingered on for generations. She believed in her soul that if Mary had been separated from Jesus, ... the new beginning would not have occurred. There was never any doubt in her mind that children could not be educated without daily involvement of their mothers in the process. She patiently explained to those that would listen: "so-called Indian education schemes failed because White teachers separated students from their mothers deemed to be savages."
She learned the history of Africans in America (first volume publication by George Washington Williams in the 1870s), the teachings of Richard Allen, Booker T. Washington and others who understood Pauline Christianity was not the path that uplifted her from bondage. It was rare indeed in the first fifty years after slavery to ever hear an educated Black minister reference Paul or any bible verses upholding doctrines of slave masters. Indeed, Black ministers were skeptical.
Most educated Black ministers (from colleges like Virginia Union in Richmond) motivated their flocks via sticking to the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Prior to radio broadcasting, few ever sought to emulate White southern preachers, most of whom still insisted that Blacks were descendents of Ham and destined to be servants to Whites. She knew that Nile Valley Africans existed long before the peoples of Mesopotamia. And Cora knew early-on in her life that organized religion could be used to exploit the traditional African faith/fear in life after death.
Cora believed Jesus came to liberate people who lacked knowledge and understanding of written words. She read the King James version and various other bibles, including some parts of the Jewish Torah, ... and had a good understanding of Messianic philosophy given by Jesus beyond what preachers might preach. For her, bibles and other religious readings were the world's greatest literature and tools that could be used to help inspire and motivate people to live well ... not to invoke fear of dying. For her, Jesus came to save human life, not the dead !
She was always saddened by the fervor of "weekly bible studies" by old and feeble congregants who had lived illiterate or unread lives; and in their final months and years fearfully seeking to comprehend aging, health, wealth, happiness, etc. via fervent bible study. In her own final months and years, she subscribed and struggled to read the daily word pamphlets for comfort to herself and discussion with husband William of 65 years (who daily watched with her their favorite television soap operas like "Search For Tomorrow.") They had together generated in love nine (9) children, all of which graduated from high school and seven (7) obtained college degrees in the pursuit of goodness.
According to her youngest daughter and companion Brenda Lee Atkins Lockley, she was suffering from glaucoma that had made her legally blind during her last great read in life to digest the book "Roots" by Alex Haley. Brenda said she loved it, and daily discussed chapter by chapter demonstrating a scholarly memory God had left intact in a devoted servant! Cora departed this life for her dearly beloved home in the mystery of Christ, ... three weeks after burial of husband William. Indeed, death could not claim victory over them!
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