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May 28, 2014

Man unearths Milledgeville family roots

MILLEDGEVILLE — Edwin C. “Itsi” Atkins’ family tree limbs extend throughout Milledgeville history.

Atkins, a former Hollywood producer and director, left Manhattan, N.Y. to attend his mother’s Savannah funeral May 10. Grace Shaeffer Atkins died peacefully at age 99.

A friend, Wendy Allen, suggested a trip to Milledgeville after the funeral.

Atkins came to dive deeper into the old state capital.

“(Wendy) said why don’t you reconnect with your mom and where she lived? I’m looking for family love that will always be there. That’s why I’m here,” he said while relaxing at The Antebellum Inn.

His two uncles and father, Daniel, all attended Georgia Military College.

Atkins’ great grandfather, the Rev. E.C. Atkins, was chaplain of Georgia State Prison farm from 1920 until 1936.

The reverend encouraged daily Bible reading for nearly 300 men and women in three prison camps, according to an old Union-Record published Chaplain Report.

Atkins’ great-grandfather reported that most prisoners’ “interest in the Bible as a guide and help to right living seems undiminished.”

“He lived to be 92, so for two years while I was alive, he was still living. Obviously being named after him, I was his favorite great grandson,” Atkins joked.

The prison chaplain was a distinguished writer. Atkins has more than 100 sermons dating back to the 1880s.

Atkins said the Georgia State Prison’s religious leader tried to help individuals find Jesus.

“If someone could accept Jesus and find redemption in his heart to ask for help, that’s all he needed,” Atkins said when referencing his great-grandfather. “My great-grandfather was talking to some pretty hardcore people. The prisoners loved him.”

His wife might have been an even larger figure, according to the interested visitor and great-grandson.

Florence Ewell Atkins was the national organizer and spokeswoman of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

“You had two very prominent Christians based out of Milledgeville,” Atkins said.

Great-grandmother Betty Stubbs Wilkinson spent much of her life as a patient in the city’s hospital later named Central State Hospital, after being admitted at 27 years old.

The Rev. E.C. Atkins’s cousin, Clara Morris, happened to be a cousin of the notable United States Congressman Carl Vinson as well. Atkins’ relatives cover all walks of Milledgeville life the last 100 years.

“Where you came from is really where you are going in some ways. If you know what your ancestors believed, how they functioned and what their values were and you actually look at yourself and find some of those values,” he said. “Knowing the past can mean a lot.”

“Itsi” spent 10 years working on film in New York before traveling to Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, Calif.

“They kept me there for five years and sent me out all over the world,” he said. “I wanted to retire in New York, so I came back and did a few more movies.”

Credits include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Clear and Present Danger.”

The member of the Directors and Screen Actors Guild is working on independent ventures, such as several short films that made the Cannes Film Festival.

Milledgeville and Central State Hospital’s reach stretches farther than a history book’s pages. Atkins hopes his story will entice others to learn more about forgotten past.

 

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