The ‘Jenkins Bus’
- Esau and Janie B. Jenkins used their Volkswagen Type 2 bus to further their work during the Civil Rights movement
- Historic Vehicle Association to display the 1966 bus on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from September 20 to 27
Herndon, VA — To honor the memory of South Carolina civil rights pioneers Esau and Janie B. Jenkins, Volkswagen of America will help the Historic Vehicle Association preserve the Volkswagen Type 2 bus they used to further their work for African-American citizens in the region.
Esau and Janie B. Jenkins fought to improve the lives of their African-American neighbors on Johns Island, South Carolina, from the 1940s through the 1970s. Over the decades, the couple launched a plethora of businesses to employ and serve their community, organized citizenship schools and used their Volkswagen Type 2 bus to further their initiatives and advocacy. The tailgate of their bus sported their famous motto: “Love Is Progress; Hate Is Expensive.”
“The Jenkinses exemplify what we mean when we aspire to ‘Drive Bigger,’” said Scott Keogh, CEO and President, Volkswagen Group of America. “We’re honored to help preserve a part of their legacy so that present and future generations of Americans can learn what it took to bring civil rights to all.”
Esau Jenkins, a native of Johns Island, S.C., and his wife Janie B. Jenkins, started out owning a farm and selling produce. Troubled by the lack of opportunity and rights in his community, Esau bought a bus in 1945 to haul children to school in Charleston; he soon added routes to bring workers to jobs. At the start of the 1940s, only a few thousand African-American residents across South Carolina could vote, due to racial literacy exams. During his bus trips, Esau would teach his passengers to recite parts of the state constitution, the requirement for becoming registered voters.
In 1948, the Jenkinses helped found The Progressive Club, a co-op that provided community programs such as legal and financial assistance, child and adult education, and community workshops. The building housed a grocery store, gas station, community center, meeting, and classroom space. Leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, participated in workshops and community meetings there.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Jenkinses worked tirelessly to help offset the economic disadvantages of Jim Crow. During this time, they purchased a 1966 Volkswagen Type 2, and used it to help open several businesses, such as a credit union to provide loans for other small businesses. They also helped launch citizenship schools that tackled illiteracy.
Esau Jenkins died in 1972. Shortly thereafter, the 1966 Volkswagen Type 2 Bus the Jenkinses had last used was parked in a backyard, where it remained until it was retrieved by the Historical Vehicle Association this year. In 2014, the family donated the back hatch, along with the engine cover, to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. where it remains on permanent exhibit.
The 1966 Type 2 will be displayed on the National Mall in Washington D.C. September 20 to 27 as a part of the fifth annual Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) Cars at the Capital exhibition. After the exhibition, the Historic Vehicle Association and professional conservators, working with Volkswagen, plan to halt the deterioration of the bus and preserve it where possible to help keep a memento of the Jenkins’ work alive.
“Ensuring our automotive heritage is never lost nor forgotten is paramount to the HVA mission. We are delighted to partner with Volkswagen and B. R. Howard to preserve this important microbus, and to fully document its rich history as part of our National Historic Vehicle Register,” said Diane Parker, Vice President of the Historic Vehicle Association.
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