Anna Wright is a mother, nurse, seminary graduate, and dedicated friend who has been active in the community of Chattanooga and has lived in her current house for 46 years. When we went to visit with her, we were greeted by her dog, Poochie, who was wearing his red sweater. She has been a friend of St. Alexius Outreach Ministries for just over one year. Anna has been very influential in the lives of so many for years, and she has been kind enough to share some of her wisdom and life experience with us.
Anna was born in 1932 in Phoenix City, Alabama. She is one of seven sisters, and her parents also raised three boys that were like brothers to her. Her mother was a seamstress and always had the “best dressed children” and her father was a minister, like his father before him. Anna and her sisters were split between her seven aunts and uncles who didn’t have kids of their own, but were still able to regularly see their parents. Anna was sent to Atlanta to live with her aunt who worked as a nurse and her uncle who owned a bakery. While there, she attended Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr.’s father was the minister and where he was ordained. She went to Catholic school right across the street from where Martin Luther King Jr. went to school, and says she would still call herself a Catholic today. Both her aunt and uncle worked long hours and Sister Ruth, a teacher at Anna’s school, would take care of her. Anna remembered Sister Ruth fondly saying that she “never got angry and I was always angry.” Because she was often at school late, Anna says “I studied more than anybody, I was the smartest. I prayed more than anybody.” Anna decided when she was young that she would “never have a fence in her yard” because a fence blocked her from playing with the other kids during her childhood and she was always angry that she could not participate. She says, “I never wanted my kids to be raised in a fence,” and this is how she has lived her life.
“I never wanted my kids to be raised in a fence.”
Anna met her husband, Reverend John T. Wright, when she was in 9th grade and he was in the army. She says, “I didn’t know I was married until my mother got my marriage certificate,” and she didn’t get to see him for 3 years after she found out they were married! Anna is the mother of four children; one daughter is still living, and she has grandkids that also live in Tennessee. John and Anna went to seminary together, and two of her sons also ended up becoming ministers, like their father and their grandfather. All of her children, except for one, served in the military. Most importantly, Anna kept her promise to herself, and her children - they all grew up without a fence.
Anna worked as a cafeteria worker at Erlanger to help make ends meet. She recalls, “we had a hard life because we didn’t have much but my aunt and uncle helped; I had to work for everything I got.” One day a doctor there told her she was supposed to be a nurse, and she decided that he was right. She proudly told us that she was one of the smartest in her nursing class. “I loved nursing,” Anna says, remembering how she delivered babies at Erlanger for 14 years.
Community has always been a big theme in Anna’s life as she has been blessed by her neighbors, and readily returns the favor. “I had a good life with my children but it was hard because my husband was in the Navy…. You couldn’t go with them like you can now.” At a young age she began learning to sew from her mother. When she was older, her neighbor, seeing that she was struggling with John being away a lot for work, picked up teaching her to sew where her mother had left off. This friend pushed her to fill her time and learn how to sew; “she was a joy,” Anna says. Almost all of the families on her block also worked as nurses at Erlanger, and the mothers would take turns watching out for each other’s kids. Anna told us, “I raised too many folks’ kids and mine.” While working at Erlanger, Anna also became a caregiver for one of her elderly neighbors. When he passed away, his wife gave her his house and she has lived there ever since. After working labor and delivery at Erlanger, she worked at Moccasin Bend as a psychiatric nurse for 34 years. She was the only black nurse there when she first started. Anna loved working there and told us “psychiatric nursing is mine.”
Anna has lost her husband and all of her children except for one daughter. This has caused a lot of pain over the last few years but she says, “by the grace of God, I made it…. I’ve just had good support and I didn’t even know the support.” Faith has also been a theme in her life and, when asked what advice she has for young people, she said, “Pray. I still do. I don’t know nothing but Jesus. God has answered a lot of my prayers… I tell God in the morning and he takes care of it in the afternoon.
I tell God in the morning and he takes care of it in the afternoon.
Story and photos by Natalie Davie
Natalie is an art major at Covenant College with a concentration in photography and a double minor in psychology and sociology. She is an intern with St. Alexius Outreach Ministries focusing on capturing the stories of our friends through photography and conversation.