Overcoming numerous obstacles, she changed the lives of others

Annie Greene Nelson. FILE PHOTO

By Stephan Drew, Editor

Do you know who was the first published African-American female author in South Carolina? Do you know where she was born and raised? Her name was Annie Greene Nelson. She was born in 1902 and grew up in Darlington County during a time of extreme hardship for most in the rural South but, especially for people of color.
She was the oldest of 13 children and, she often told of how life was growing up in a poor farm community. “When I was a little girl, I picked cotton in the fields from the time I was about three years old,” she recounted, “As soon as children learned to walk back then, they had to go in the fields and work, because their parents couldn’t stay home with them.” Some may have thought she was simply a child playing in the field while her parents worked but, she was always quick to correct them. “I had a little flour sack made for a cotton bag,” she stated, “I’d go along and we’d pick cotton.”
Extreme poverty in the rural South was a daily commodity for many. Every aspect of one’s daily life was hard and there was precious little time to rest. In her later life, Annie loved telling children about her early years. “When I was eight years old, I was getting up every morning, fixing breakfast and milking cows,” she would say, “Many mornings while I was milking, the cow would kick the bucket over and spill milk all over me. I would be scolded for being careless with the milk.”
In spite of all the struggles she endured while growing up, Annie knew that she was destined for something else. She told herself, “Someday, I’m going to be somebody.” At age 7, her literary career began when she wrote a poem to her boyfriend. “Sugar is sweet, lard is greasy; if you love me honey, don’t be uneasy.” With those lines, an amazing literary career was born.
As a young adult, she attended a five-month school called Parrott’s Plantation before going to Benedict College for 2 years. She then went on to Voorhees College, where she graduated from their nursing program in 1923. She never stopped writing, though. In 1925, her first published work, “What Do You Think Of Mother?” appeared in the Palmetto Leader newspaper. She wrote several other books, including “After the Storm”, “The Dawn Appears”, “Don’t Walk on My Dreams”, “Shadows of the South Land”, “To Paw, With Love”, and “Eighty, So What?”.
She later moved to Columbia, SC, and became the first African-American woman to have a novel published in South Carolina in 1942. She composed music, plays and poetry with equal passion and skill.
Nelson taught in public schools in Darlington and Richland counties and worked as a nurse for almost 20 years at the old Columbia Hospital, Providence Hospital and Forest Hills Nursing Home. In her roles as teacher and nurse, she was able to touch the lives of not only those in desperate need of healing but also those in need of learning. She had such an understanding, comforting nature and fulfilled both roles to perfection.
Having had a lifelong passion for the written and spoken word, Nelson studied drama at the University of South Carolina at the age of 80. She toured many parts of the country and even traveled to Africa, spreading her message of hope, hard work and inner happiness. When she spoke to students in classrooms, they were not only amused to hear her stories, they were captivated and educated at the same time. She not only brought a deeper understanding of the past to those young minds of the future, she made it interesting to them at the same time.
Nelson received many honors for her work, including the J. Scott Kennedy Award for her commitment to black theater. She also received numerous tributes from Voorhees College, Benedict Collect, the S.C. Arts Commission and the S.C. Humanities Commission.
In 1989, when she received the Lucy Hampton Bostick Award from the Richland County Public Library, she summed up her life’s goal. “I always tried to write what I thought would inspire people,” she said, “I wanted to write about the good things people could do. I wanted to write about love, about how we can love each other even when things can be sad.” That’s the message she spread everywhere she went. Everyone who read or listened to her words was changed for the better. Although she left this earth in 1993, at the age of 91, I pray that we keep her message always in our hearts.

Author: Stephan Drew

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