CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Mention Lowcountry icons of black history and Esau Jenkins' name is guaranteed to be in the mix.
He was a civil rights and voting rights champion known for fighting for civil rights all across the Lowcountry.
When the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture opened up, his story was one of the exhibits on display.
“He was well known for this bus. ‘Love is progress; hate is expensive.’ Because he was trying to promote citizenship schools, trying to make sure that African Americans had the right to vote,” Jenkins’ granddaughter, Eldrina Jones, said.
The van carried Jenkins all over the Lowcountry fighting for civil rights while he was alive. Now, it has transported his legend to the halls of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
“It’s awesome,” his granddaughter, Dr. Jeniqua Duncan, said. “I’ve always taken for granted the greatness that’s in our family. It’s always been just a given that we’re a family who cares about other people and cares about the world.”
“He was concerned about education on Johns Island,” Jones said. "He was able to get Haut Gap on the island for African American students. From there, Dr. Martin Luther King came down and said, ‘How do you do citizenship schools to get people to vote?’ He was able to get people to vote and got them registered at the progressive club. On Johns Island.
As the rest of the world around them learns of their father, the children of Esau and Janie Jenkins quietly observe and remember the emotional journey they have lived.
“They seem to be in awe,” Duncan said. “They’re very proud of their father. They’re proud of what he did. And our grandmother. and it’s nice to see them kind of re-live life again and re-live that era.”
“I actually used to play and climb on top of this in the back of my great grandmothers’ yard,” Jenkins’ great-grandson, William Casey, said. "And I probably broke all of the windows in this and got spanked for it several times. My great grandfather would have been proud to be here. He would have been amazed at this. And honored.