April 2011

Esau Jenkins

Community Organizer, Civil Rights Leader

Esau Jenkins, a Johns Island native, envisioned himself as his “brother’s keeper”, and his “charge to keep” manifested in a number of services designed to improve the economic, health, housing, political and social conditions of Sea Island residents in South Carolina.

During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Jenkins and his wife Janie purchased a few buses to transport their own and other Island children to a public school in Charleston, and other residents to jobs in the city. As workers made the morning commute, Jenkins and his wife taught them to read the section of the Constitution required for them to become registered voters. Jenkins and his wife also operated a vegetable and fruit stand, restaurant, a portion of Atlantic Beach for African American access to public beaches and were instrumental in organizing the Progressive Club of Johns Island. The Progressive Club, consisting of a community grocery store, gas station, and recreation/education center, also housed one of the citizenship schools established throughout the South during the civil rights movement.

In the late 1950’s, Jenkins became president of the Citizens Committee of Charleston County and founded the C.O. Federal Credit Union to make low-interest loans accessible to African Americans. In collaboration with Church Women United, he created Rural Mission, Inc. to provide services for migrant and seasonal workers. He created the Rural Mission Health Planning Program in 1971, chartered as the Sea Island Comprehensive Healthcare Corporation in 1972, to provide low-income housing, a nursing home and a community health center for Sea Island residents. Jenkins died a few months later after seeing the fruition of his life’s work. His famous motto, “Love is progress; hate is expensive,” lives on through his family.