James Earnest Atkinson was the eldest son of James Edward and Louise Arms Atkinson. He became a Cliffside resident at age nine when his family moved there in 1905. He did not ride in the wagon that hauled the family’s furniture to their new home, but walked to Cliffside with two cows and two of his sisters. He had been entrusted with the task of seeing that they and the two milk cows all traveled safely to Cliffside from their former home in the State Line Community. While living in Cliffside, he went to school and then went to work in the mill. He was 14 or 15 years old when the family moved from Cliffside to the Cherokee Creek community about 1911. He helped his father on the farm, but continued to work in Cliffside Mills until he left to join the navy in 1917 when the U.S. entered WWI. He married Eddith Martin, and they raised their children in the Cherokee Creek community, while Earnest farmed for a living.
Earnest served on the local school board until both his children graduated from high school, and then resigned. He was instrumental in seeing that improvements were made in conditions at the school for black students, which were separate at that time. He was an active member of Cherokee Creek Baptist Church, served as a deacon, was on many committees, and was the church treasurer for many years.
Earnest died in 1954 at age 58, and Eddith lived until 2001, when she died just 5 months short of her 103rd birthday.