The story of Esau Jenkins and the Progressive Club will be included in the permanent exhibit titled, “Defining Freedom, Defending Freedom: The era of segregation”. The exhibit will feature a panel from Mr. Jenkins’ iconic Volkswagen microbus and will be on display at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum is set to open to the public on September 24, 2016 in Washington D.C.
In the 1940’s, Esau and his wife Janie used their money from farming and selling produce on John’s Island to form a community co-op called the Progressive Club. The co-op housed a full service gas station, country store and resource center that served the local sea island community.
Mr. Jenkins transported workers to jobs in the Charleston area. During the bus rides, He would teach adult passengers the information needed to pass the required literacy exam that allowed then to vote. This strategy resulted in thousands of citizens becoming registered voters.
As Esau and his wife Janie’s resources grew, so did their outreach and service to the community. To enable all children on the Sea Islands access to education, Esau founded Haut Gap High School.
In 1966, he founded the C.O. Federal Credit Union, which is one of only 23 black owned banks in the country. Because of the new community owned bank, residents had access to secure low-interest loans to purchase homes, businesses, vehicles and even send their children to college.
Esau was a co-founder of the Rural Mission. This initiative provided services for migrant and seasonal workers on the island. He also chartered the Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation which provides low-income housing, a nursing home and a comprehensive health care center for the Sea Island residents.
Before his death in 1972, Jenkins and his wife Janie owned several businesses which included a bus company, restaurant, two hotels and a record store.
In honor of the accomplishments of Esau and Janie Jenkins, The City of Charleston will host a free community event entitled: ’Faith, Love and Progress: The Esau and Janie B. Jenkins Family Smithsonian Send Off’.
The ceremony will serve as the official ‘send off’ as three generations of the Jenkins family, including the six surviving children some in their 80’s, travel Washington D.C. to celebrate and witness this historic event.
The event is open to the public and will be held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2016, at Gadsden Wharf (future site of the International African American Museum) at the Charleston Maritime Center.
Event Partners: City of Charleston, Preservation Society of Charleston, SureVantage Marketing Group, The Progressive Club and Charleston County School District.
For more information about Esau and Janie B. Jenkins or the Jenkins Family Smithsonian Send Off visit www.esaujenkins.org.