Two African-American Island residents, Esau Jenkins and Joe Williams, organized the Progressive Club in 1948.
Two African-American Island residents, Esau Jenkins and Joe Williams, organized the Progressive Club in 1948. These two visionaries realized the necessity for an organization such as the Progressive Club when an African-American Johns Island resident, Sammy Grant, was shot by a white man for kicking at the man’s dog in an effort to defend himself from an attack. When the white magistrate refused to issue an indictment against the dog owner, finding that the dog owner “had a right” to shoot Grant, Jenkins and Williams organized Island residents to pool their funds to hire an attorney to appeal the magistrate’s decision. The dog owner was eventually tried, convicted and fined for the aggravated assault and battery. From these beginnings, the Progressive Club took shape and came into being. The organization received its Charter #1145 in 1948 from the Secretary of State of South Carolina.
Esau Jenkins was the Progressive Club’s first president. Under his leadership and guidance, the 15 members of the Club in 1948 met in the Moving Star Hall every third Sunday and collected monthly dues for the purpose of aiding any of its members who had to contend with the legal and law enforcement systems. This money was used to pay bail for African-Americans often charged for unjust violations. After a period of time, the Club began to lend to its members funds to buy cars, fertilizer, and other necessities to alleviate the hardships of Island life for its African-American residents.
In 1948 Esau Jenkins also decided to buy buses to transport islanders who commuted into Charleston to work. According to Jenkins,
Esau Jenkins led a life of wanting more and better for himself, his family and his community. He recognized the inequalities in his life and those of fellow African-Americans and came to institute programs to overcome those hardships and injustices. Born July 3, 1910 on Johns Island, Esau left Legareville Elementary School in the fourth grade to help his father, a farmer. Jenkins then went on to work on a boat, returned to farming and grew cotton, bought a truck and began truck farming. He was able to succeed in his truck farming business by adapting to the market; he took classes in Greek in order to sell his products to the predominately Greek-speaking vegetable-store owners. As his truck-farming business grew, he began investing in other business ventures, like the J & P motel and café in downtown Charleston and later in 1950, one in Atlantic Beach, SC. His business success afforded him the opportunity to begin to help others.
Click the video below to learn more about the famous Jenkins’s bus!
Learn about Bill Jenkins and J. Herman Blake and how their stories contribute to the history of Johns Island.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, Johns Island blacks began acquiring land with their new freedoms; in the 1880s blacks owned approximately ten percent of the lands on the Sea Islands of Johns Island and nearby James Island. African-Americans also began establishing their own institutions after the Civil War on Johns Island, in particular churches. In addition, praise houses were an important institution to the island; they provided a limited setting for interdenominational religious services as well as for social, fraternal and charitable functions. While emancipated slaves gained the right to vote, this changed with the adoption of the South Carolina Constitution of 1895, which restricted black suffrage. After this time, prospective voters had to read and write any section of the state constitution to the registrar’s satisfaction in order to qualify to vote. Until the construction of Haut Gap High School in 1951, schools for blacks on Johns Island only went to the seventh grade with one teacher for all grades. With blacks receiving little to no formal educational training, their participation in elections after the 1895 amendment dropped significantly.