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VOLKSWAGEN OF AMERICA REMEMBERS A CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER THROUGH PRESERVATION OF THE 'JENKINS BUS'

Sep 12, 2019

  • 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.

 

About Volkswagen

Founded in 1955, Volkswagen of America, Inc. is an operating unit of Volkswagen Group of America and a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, with headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. Volkswagen’s operations in the United States include research and development, parts and vehicle processing, parts distribution centers, sales, marketing and service offices, financial service centers, and its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Volkswagen Group is one of the world's largest producers of passenger cars and Europe's largest automaker. Volkswagen sells the Arteon, Atlas, Beetle, Beetle Convertible, e-Golf, Golf, Golf Alltrack, Golf GTI, Golf R, Golf SportWagen, Jetta, Passat, and Tiguan vehicles through more than 600 independent U.S. dealers. Visit Volkswagen online at www.vw.com or media.vw.com to learn more.

About the Historic Vehicle Association

The HVA is dedicated to preserving and sharing America’s automotive heritage. In 2014, The HVA established the National Historic Vehicle Register in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Heritage Documentation Programs and Library of Congress, respectively, to document historically significant automobiles in America’s past. The HVA is supported by over 400,000 individual historic vehicle owners, key stakeholders and corporations as well as individual benefactors. Please visit: www.historicvehicle.org.

“VW”, “Volkswagen”, all model names and the Volkswagen logo are registered trademarks of Volkswagen AG.

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