Esau and Janie B. Jenkins: A Lifetime of Service to Others
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9, NRSV
Esau and Janie B. Jenkins were profoundly religious, and their religion informed every aspect of their daily living. The Jenkinses took Cain’s duplicitous and arrogant question to God and made it a resounding declarative statement: We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers!
The Jenkinses grew up in the A. M. E. Church but later changed their membership to The United Methodist Church where they remained for the remainder of their lives. The United Methodist Church has a long and rich history of engagement on issues of social concern.
The Jenkinses’ unshakable faith in a God who always delivers and who is always on the side of the oppressed made them fearless in the face of overwhelming odds; outspoken when others were silent; and compelled them to act when others were impotent to act.
As they critiqued the world in which they lived and their place in it, they did not permit their limited formal education hinder them from being agents of social change. Esau attended night school to earn his general educational diploma, and Janie remained a voracious reader until her death. They created organizations and businesses (the Progressive Club of Johns Island, the Citizens Committee of Charleston County, C. O. Federal Credit Union, J & P Café, Jenkins Place on Atlantic Beach, Hot Spot Record Shop, and a bus service) and worked with others to address the political, social, educational, and economic conditions existing in their community.
Their political activism and that of others led to the establishment of Haut Gap High School on Johns Island to educate African American children; the citizenship schools that spread throughout the South in the 1960’s grew out of their vision for adult literacy programs on the Sea Islands; Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation grew out of their vision for better health care on the Sea Islands; and their concern for the working conditions of indigenous small farmers and migrants led to their collaboration with the late Willis T. Goodwin and others to establish Rural Mission, Inc.
The Jenkinses’ legacy of faith, courage, and love of family and community continues today through their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.