by Nikita Philbrick
Hillery (Hillary) Atkins was born September 10th between 1888 and 1892 in Norfolk, Virginia to William Henry Atkins and Elizabeth Randolph. William was a laborer for an oil company and Elizabeth (or Lizzie) was local launderer. In 1900, they lived in public housing on Princess Anne Avenue with William’s parents Richard and Henrietta, his niece Rosa and nephew John, along with Hillery’s two younger sisters, Viola, and Blanche. By the Spring of 1910, the Atkins family had moved into their new residence on Wilson Avenue in Norfolk. Hillery helped sustain the family income with his work as a stemmer in the industrial tobacco factory operated by The American Cigar Company Complex. It is not conclusive of what existed during his employment with the company, but between 1910 and 1917, he soon found work away from home for David M. Lee, at a box factory in Henrico, Virginia. Hillery Atkins was living on E 3rd Street in Richmond and was twenty-eight years of age at the time he was drafted into the First World War. He was not an educated man, but he according to Census records, he could read and write; however, his registration documents were filled out for him by administrative personnel and many pages were left blank. His registration dated September 17, 1917. According to the Veterans Administration master index, Atkins was employed from October 26, 1917 until June 18, 1919. He served as a Private First Class at the Central State Hospital in Petersburg, VA. This was a mental asylum for African Americans who were deserters, suicidal, criminal, or suffering from psychosis or other chronic illnesses.
Following his return home for service, Hillery Atkins became a resident of Goff Street in Norfolk, Virginia. There he resided as a boarder with his sister Viola, her husband William, their children Cecil and Annie, William’s sister Beulah Elliot, and two other boarders in the housing unit. He worked as a wage launderer at the fire station. Due to reason that is not transcribed, Hillery Atkins later became incarcerated, in accordance with the United States Census of 1930, and was located at a prison in Dinwiddie county of Richmond, Virginia. It is interesting to note that the prison recorded that his birth year as 1893, different from his actual age and year of birth, which can be due to the misrepresentation of age in census reports and lack of records available for the family. His death is recorded to be November 16, 1930, in which he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia. This grave site honors Norfolk’s African American citizens who made important contributions to the city’s history.
Atkins, Hillery. United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
United States Census, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.
Atkins, Hillery. “Draft Record Index”, United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940. (St. Louis: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985).
“Hillery Atkins”, Find A Grave.com. Available Online: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/102578947/hillery-atkins