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Esau & Janie Jenkins Family Smithsonian Send Off
9/28/2016 3:30:30 PM

Submitted by Team Backpack Journalists – reporting in: Dorian Bell, Tyler Bowen, Lucien Buhr, Noah Castrillo, Tori Rhimes, Jaden Shepherd, Stephan Smith, Amir Wells, and Linda Dennis, Program Manager.

ESAU JENKINS, 1910 – 1972

Esau, an African American man living on Johns Island, rose to become a Civil Rights Activist and leader, teacher and a hero to many. A door from one of his famous busses that he used to transport workers from Johns Island to other areas of Charleston now resides in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian, Washington, DC. Link here will take you to a video view of the museum.

On September 22, 2016, Gadsden’s Wharf, a ceremony was held to celebrate the send off for the children of Esau and Janie, with many speaking to their personal connections with Mr. Esau and his family. His family members were present. Mayor Tecklenburg opened up the ceremony. Damon Fordham, a historian and published writer, spoke of Esau’s life on Johns Island. Ms. Eldrina Jones, the chairperson, Esau and Janie Jenkins project, and his granddaughter spoke of the journey to Washington, DC. The gathering music provided by Haut Gap Middle School and the sounds of children singing filled the air throughout, including two performances by The Charleston Progressive Academy Chorus performing two special songs: “We are the World” and then their own “Leadership Song”. It was quite moving, for these students to perform, and added to this celebration.

About Esau and Janie

He and Janie had a large family, and he juggled raising kids, supporting a family and driving those less fortunate, primarily African Americans, than him to work, school or church. In his lifetime he owned 2 busses and educated African American in hopes of a larger population eligible to vote representing the oppressed. During this time time in US history, one had to take a literacy test in order to vote. He started the Progressive Club, which is now recognized by the Preservation Society of Charleston. He brought many national Civil Rights leaders to Charleston to include Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. He was friends to all, and when a recreation leader saw him coming in his bus, they would extend the recess to an hour or more, just so “Mr. Esau could teach the children”. Many of his friends and historians spoke of their personal experiences. Of special note, was Mr. Bud Ferillo.

Team Backpack Journalists spoke the Mr. Ferillo, and he shared the following: “I was in Bishop England High School when I met Mr. Esau. I was very active back then in the civil rights movement, and often volunteered to help him, from picking up guests at the airport to passing out flyers. Once I picked up Coretta Scott King. What meant the most to me, was the brass cross that was made by a slave that he gave me before I went to Vietnam, to serve my country. I did not like or support the war, but I went to serve my country. I kept the cross taped to my chest throughout my year of service in Vietnam and felt it kept me safe. Upon my welcome home with Esau, I offered it back to him, and he told me to keep it and told me: We have more work to do”. Today, Mr. Ferillo has the brass cross with him at all times, and he continues to work for social justice. He is the producer of the documentary: “The Corridors of Shame”, and now the coordinator for the SC Collaborative on Race & Reconciliation.

We also spoke with many of his children, and their responses all in unison: “Our Daddy expected all of us to be on time! He was strict about that!”. In speaking to them we learned of Esau’s continued support for all the members in the Johns Island community, and travels that he took to support the civil rights locally.

He is famous his quote: “ Love is progress, hate is expensive”. We also loved another that Esau was known for:

“If you like the way things are then make it better, but don’t be complacent. If you don’t like it, then change it! -Esau Jenkins

Esau lived his life by these mottos.

The content for this article was written by the Team Backpack Journalists. The photos supplied by: Tori Rhymes, Tyler Bowen, Linda Dennis.

The Jenkins Family wishes to express sincere appreciation to the friends and supporters of the Esau and Janie B. Jenkins legacy.

Host Partners: The City of Charleston, Esau & Janie Jenkins Family, Preservation Society of Charleston, Sure Advantage Marketing Group, Charleston County School District, CocaCola Consolidated, A Backpack Journalist (Team-St.Julian Devine & Bees Landing) , Stokes Volkswagen.

Participating Schools: Allegro Charter School of Music, Charleston Progressive Academy, Orange Grove Charter School, SC Connections Academy, Angel Oak Elementary School, Haut Gap Middle School, Sanders Clyde Elementary School, St. Johns High School, W. Ashley Math and Science School. 

Team Backpack with Esau's children - from left to right: Abraham B. Jenkins - Son of Esau and Janie, Lorretta J. Saunders - Daughter of Esau and Janie, Francena J. Buncomb - Daughter of Esau and Janie, Eldrina Jones - Granddaughter of Esau and Janie, Marie J. Jones (sitting) Daughter of Esau and Janie

Photos of Esau & Janie on display at event

Mayor Tecklenburg with Esau's Grandaughter Ms. Eldrina Jones in the background

Bud Ferillo with Team Backpack journalists

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