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An Uncooperative Co-Op Stymies The Co-Op That Changed The South
Published:
9/1/2016 2:59:53 PM


The late Esau Jenkins
 

Esau Jenkins at the Progressive Club on Johns Island
 
Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive was the motto of the late Esau Jenkins, a civil rights icon of the Low Country, He was born and reared on Johns Island, SC in 1910 and lived most of his life there.

With very little formal education, he became a businessman and civil rights leader.

Jenkins founded the Progressive Club in 1948. The organization owned a small cooperative store, also called the Progressive Club, on the little known island located off the coast of South Carolina and home to the Gullah people who had retained a lot of their African cultural heritage.

What began in that co-op was a Citizenship School to teach blacks on Johns Island how to qualify to register to vote. Later, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) spread that program throughout the South. 

That one class in the co-op became thousands of classes in churches, schools, and homes. In 1962, the SCLC brought in other groups that later formed the Voter Education Project (VEP).

Between 1962 and 1966, VEP trained 10,000 teachers for Citizenship Schools, and 700,000 black voters registered throughout the South. By 1970, another million black voters had registered.

The Progressive Club was the center for political, social, educational, cultural, and recreational activities for the African American residents of Johns Islands. There was a gymnasium that served as a basketball court, skating rink, meeting place, and activity center for weddings, receptions, family reunions, etc.

Twenty-seven years ago in September 1989, Hurricane Hugo visited Charleston and destroyed everything in its path.

The Progressive Club’s roof collapsed and only remnants of the original structure were left intact. On September 8, 2013, the Preservation Society of Charleston unveiled an historic marker on the property honoring the work Esau Jenkins and the Progressive Club did for the Civil Rights Movement. 

At some point after Hurricane Hugo, Berkeley Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BEC) relocated a power line that was originally situated in front of the Progressive Club’s building to service the gas pumps to a location that passes directly over the center of the collapsed roofline and the adjacent back yard of Esau Jenkins’ residence (now owned by his youngest daughter, Elaine Jenkins). For the past three years, Elaine Jenkins has repeatedly requested of BEC’s administration and board members that the power line be relocated so that she could proceed with the preservation and renovation her parents’ historic home.

Originally, BEC’s agent, upon being shown the proposed plans for preservation and renovation of the home, did not object, and Ms. Jenkins moved forward with the plans. Subsequently, a change in BEC’s management occurred and the present administrative team has refused to permit Ms. Jenkins to move forward with the plans or to relocate the power line unless the company is paid $66,000.00 to do so. She has refused to incur that expense, especially since the power line was relocated by BEC without permission and/or consultation with the property owners who are impacted by this change. 

Despite numerous attempts by Ms. Jenkins to meet with BEC representatives to resolve this issue, and intervention attempts made by County Councilwoman Anna Johnson, State Rep. Robert Brown, State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, and others, BEC has stood firm in its unwillingness to be a cooperative co-op. When Ms. Jenkins attempted to contact the BEC board of directors via email, their email accounts were summarily changed and made inaccessible to her. BEC has taken the position that a 1935 easement gives them the right and authority to move the power line as they so desire.

Approximately two years ago, the Progressive Club restructured its board of directors, and working with representatives from the Historical Charleston Society, the Low Country Land Trust, the Coastal Conservation League, the Clemson Architectural Center, and the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center, developed a plan to restore/renovate the existing structure of the Progressive Club. Upon completion of that initial project, there is a plan to build a new community center type of facility, directly across the road from the Progressive Club site that will also provide adequate parking for the new center users as well as tourists/visitors to the Progressive Club. Ten acres of land has already been obtained from the Greenbelt Project (8 acres for green space usage and 2 acres for the community center). It should be noted, that presently there is no community center facility available to Johns Island residents!

It would seem that with all of this credible support from reputable organizations, that BEC would have a strong interest in partnering in the effort to preserve a national monument, and to accommodate a service user who is trying to preserve and renovate her parents’ historic homestead. Apparently, not! The new board of directors of the Progressive Club has met the same type of resistance from BEC representatives that Elaine Jenkins has encountered.

It’s very difficult to comprehend how a public service cooperative, supposedly governed by the community that it serves, can be so callous and insensitive to the citizens of James, Johns, Kiawah, Seabrook, and Wadmalaw Islands. Not to mention, the total disregard for the historical value that the two structures---the home of the late Esau Jenkins and the Progressive Club---had on the Civil Rights Movement throughout our country.

Here’s the irony of it all. On September 23-25, 2016, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture will have its grand opening in Washington, DC. In one of the permanent exhibits entitled “Defining Freedom, Defending Freedom: The era of segregation, 1878-1968,” the back panels of the Volkswagen bus that Mr. Esau Jenkins drove with the words “Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive” inscribed on it, were acquired by the Smithsonian for this permanent exhibit. The surviving children of Esau Jenkins will make a special visit to the museum, prior to the grand opening for a private viewing. Additionally, other family members, friends, and Sea Island residents will travel by bus to the Nation’s capital for the museum’s grand opening celebration.

Mayor Tecklenburg’s Office is assisting to coordinate a formal send-off in honor of this event on September 22, 2016 in Charleston. Also, on September 10-11, 2016, the Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation (SICHCC) will host its 24th Annual Sea Island Cultural Arts Festival. The SICHCC was the late Esau Jenkins’ vision made concrete through the efforts of the late Rev. Willis T. Goodwin, William “Bill” Saunders, Abraham Bill Jenkins, former State Rep. McKinley Washington, Jr., and many others. The month of September is also the 50th anniversary of the Community Organization Federal Credit Union (COFCU), one of only approximately 25 black-owned banks or credit unions throughout the United States. Yes, this too, was founded by the late Esau Jenkins.

Need I say more? We have a little known national hero, right here from Johns Island, who is recognized for his tremendous service to our community, city, county, state, and nation, but can’t be properly honored in his own home town because of the cavalier attitudes of a few top level BEC executives. Truly, Love is Progress and Hate is Expensive. I think the residents of Johns Island should seriously consider procuring services from South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G), which has a strong track record of being community oriented, customer-focused and service driven. 


Abe Jenkins, Jr., Grandson of the late Esau Jenkins

 

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Beverly Deas Slaughter Submitted: 10/8/2016
Very informative. Didn't know i had all this going on in my family. I am the granddaughter on Paris and Christine deas and the daughter of leroy. I would love to know more about my family history


 
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