Mitchell Alexander Atkins, 102, of Mount Airy, a warehouse worker and longtime deacon at Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Philadelphia, died Friday, Dec. 5, at his home.
He lived for many years in West Philadelphia before moving to Mount Airy.
Mr. Atkins' journey began in Douglas, Ga., in 1912, the year the Titanic sank. William Howard Taft was the president.
At that time, there were no elementary school buildings for black children where he lived, so Mr. Atkins attended classes in what were called "church houses."
"Education was very important and exciting to him. After completing the elementary grades, he kept reading all kinds of books, and as a result, he taught himself many things and how to survive in a positive way," his family said in a tribute.
During one stage of his life, Mr. Atkins set his sights on becoming a prizefighter like his idol, Jack Johnson, but he later gave up the idea. Mr. Atkins fought at the amateur level.
In the 1930s, Mr. Atkins worked in a pressing-machine factory in Jacksonville, Fla., earning $5 a week. He found a better job as a cook at the Green Derby Restaurant, making $11 a week.
Although he eventually became the chief cook, he was barred from eating inside his own workplace; the restaurant's black employees ate in a shed out back.
Mr. Atkins taught himself to read the Bible, memorizing certain passages, which he recited throughout his life. His strong Christian faith sustained him.
After the stock market crashed in October 1929, he met Mattie Louise Butler. The two married in 1930 and were together for 81 years until her death in 2011.
"On their 80th wedding anniversary, they got a letter from the president for being one of the longest-married couples in the nation," said son Roland Atkins. "We gave them a big to-do."
In 1945, the family moved to Philadelphia, where Mr. Atkins worked as a receiving clerk at Pennsylvania Warehouse & Safe Deposit Co. for 29 years until retiring in 1974.
Mr. Atkins taught his children the importance of prayer. He joined the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in 1964, and went on to become the eldest and longest-serving deacon. Often, his family said, he used his own money to help families in need.
"He impacted lives in an unforgettable way, and his own life was enriched by this experience," his family said.
Surviving, in addition to his son, are daughters Meleesa Yvonne Jones, Reauchean Smaller, Linda Atkins-Ellison, and Carmen West; 17 grandchildren; 30 great-grandchildren; and 14 great-great-grandchildren. A daughter, Christine Jeanette, and a son, Mitchell Glenn, died earlier.
Services were Saturday, Dec. 13.