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Little Known Local Black History
2/16/2017 12:06:13 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

Black History Month is a time for parents and teachers to educate children on the achievements of African Americans. It really hasn’t been that long since many African American came to grip with the truth about their distorted history. The truth of the matter is African American history had been left out of history books purposely to undermine the intellect and many accomplishments of African Americans. Although African Americans were forbidden to read and write, they overcame the hurdles and achieved prominence.

It is important to remember local pioneers that gave so much of their time and talents to this community, state and nation.

ESAU JENKINS, was a farmer and businessman from Johns Island. Jenkins had very little formal education but he was determined that his children and other children would receive an education. He used some of his profits from farming and bought buses to transport his children and others to school in downtown Charleston. He also used his buses to transport workers to the Naval Shipyard for better employment opportunities. Jenkins was very involved in the political process. While on the buses, he would teach the workers how to pass the literacy test so they could register to vote and he made sure they had a ride to the polls. Jenkins was a giant in the civil rights movement. In addition to the farming and bus businesses, he owned a restaurant and motel on Spring Street in Charleston and in Atlantic Beach. Jenkins founded the Progressive Club and help founded a Credit Union in downtown Charleston. Jenkins, an ordinary man, went on to do extraordinary things.

SEPTIMA POINSETTE CLARK, Her father was a slave and her mother was born in Haiti. She graduated from Avery Institute in Charleston and started her teaching career on Johns Island in 1916. She was a teacher, an activist and a member of the NAACP and her activism caused her to lose her job and also her retirement benefits from Charleston County Schools. After a long drawn out fight, she was finally awarded her retirement benefits. Not being able to teach at home, she went on to teach at the Highlander School and accompanied Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. to Norway when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. What a feat for a local woman born to a slave. Clark, an ordinary woman, went on to do extraordinary things.

WILLIAM “BILL” SAUNDERS- Looks like we can’t get off of Johns Island but Saunders is iconic and synonymous with the 1969 Hospital Strike. You can’t mention the Medical University/County Hospital Strike without mentioning Bill Saunders and Mary Moultrie. The hospital strike lasted some 100 days and gained national attention. He led the strike with Mary Moultrie, a hospital worker, who represented the strikers. Saunders was instrumental in getting The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Local 1199B involved in the strike. Saunders later founded Cobra for persons suffering with Sickle Cell disease. He also was the owner of a local radio station, WPAL. These are just a few of his accomplishments. Saunders, an ordinary man, continues to serve his community doing extraordinary things.

TOBIA GADSON, SR., a barber and businessman, born in Walterboro, SC, later moved to Charleston and had a barber shop on Spring Street. He served in the legislature and there is a street West Ashley that is named after him. It wasn’t easy being black and getting elected to the legislature. Gadson, an ordinary man, served others through extraordinary measures.

REV. ROBERT WOODS, a Presbyterian minister, went on to become one of the most powerful legislators in the House of Representatives from Charleston. He also paved the way for others from Charleston to be elected to the House. Because of his position and influence in the House he was able to get things done that benefited people here at home and around the state. Woods was a great orator and Civil Rights Advocate. Woods was an extraordinary preacher and representative of the poor and disenfranchised.

REV. FRED D. DAWSON, a Baptist Minister from Louisiana, appropriately named Frederick Douglass Dawson, after one of the greatest orators and abolitionists that ever lived, lived up to his name as a modern day abolitionist and Civil Rights advocate. Dawson took on establishments single handedly and one at a time. He often appeared before City Council, County Council and the County School Board advocating for the disenfranchised. A feared leader and organizer, Rev. Dawson took on establishments one at a time. He picketed local establishments when they refused to deal fairly with African Americans. Dawson picketed the Post and Courier for unfair practices and refused to leave until he was heard. He could be seen marching in the drenching sun and rain, oftentimes alone. He was not one to give up or give in. Dawson, an ordinary man devoted to justice and equality.

REV. DR. OMEGA NEWMAN, Former pastor of Francis Brown United Methodist Church and a community activist, was a pastor in action. Dr. Newman not only talked the talked but he joined hands with marchers and protested injustices. He was an eloquent speaker, leader in the fight for social justice and a staunch supporter of public education. Dr. Newman, an ordinary man, fought for changes in his community, state and nation for ordinary people.

Time and space will only allow recognition of a few local contributors to black history. Stay tuned next week for Part II. Until then, “Agitate, Agitate, Agitate”!!


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