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Jenkins Institute Takes A Glorious Past Into The Future
2/13/2014 11:24:10 AM

The late Rev. Daniel Joseph Jenkins

By Barney Blakeney

A prized jewel in the crowning glory that is Charleston’s Black History is the continuing story of Jenkins Institute, formerly, Jenkins Orphanage. Born from a desire to help orphaned Black children, the institute’s founder Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins grew it to become a world renown cultural institution and valuable community resource.

During the first half of the 1900s Jenkins Orphanage earned a distinguished reputation for having one of the most remarkable musical bands in the nation and produced some of America’s finest Black musicians. Though the music now is silenced, Jenkins Institute continues to serve its original mission, fostering the care and wellbeing of Black children.

Established in 1891 after he found four orphaned young Black boys huddled against the cold on the streets of Charleston, Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins founded on King Street the orphanage that originally doubled as a day school.

Jenkins converted a cabin on the lot into housing for the boys he’d found. Other boys soon joined them. Within six months the number of students at the school grew to 96 though only a small number of students actually lived at the orphanage.

In 1892 Jenkins, who was pastor of Fourth Baptist Church, led his congregation to form the Orphan Aid Society which built a new school and 24-room orphanage on two lots on H Street adjacent to the King Street school.

As Jenkins’ orphanage grew the need for space led him in 1893 to purchase a building at 20 Franklin St. Where he housed his orphans and continued his school. By 1894 he had incorporated industrial education into the school’s program. The school was considered as providing a high quality of industrial instruction to students.

That year Jenkins acquired 100 acres of land in Ladson from a wealthy New York manufacturer where he grew cotton, raised livestock and sold lumber. Greenwood Industrial Farm allowed the orphanage to become an independent enterprise.

Funding was a consistent problem. The orphanage used its farm to supplement its income which was provided through donations from individuals and local churches. In 1937 it moved from Magazine Street to a 220-acre farm in the North Area on the banks of the Ashley River. It still is located at that site.

Rev. Jenkins, like Booker T. Washington, was a proponent of the self-help concept and implemented a structured program emphasizing skills that would benefit the orphanage and the youngsters.

One of the orphanage’s best known programs was its band. The band gained national and international recognition as a result of performances across the United States and abroad.

The band’s performances generated substantial funding for the orphanage and a number of band members went on to perform with bandleaders such as Duke Ellington, Dizzie Gillespie, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton. Other residents of the institute became doctors, lawyers, ministers and teachers. Jenkins died in 1937, but the band he formed cemented the institution’s renown.

Johanna Martin Carrington, executive director of the institute said as it moves into the future, the institute is changing how it serves children.

In April the institute will begin serving children and their families at the North Charleston campus. Additionally the institute will serve teenage mothers and their children as well.

Carrington said she hopes the institute eventually will re-establish the band. In the past music was the instrument the institution used for funding, it now may serve as an instrument for providing alternative activities for youth, she said.

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