UPDATE with homecoming celebration and viewing details:
Jan. 28, 5-8 p.m.
Alfred Williams Community Center (4441 Durant Ave., North Charleston)
Jan. 29 at 11 a.m.
St. Johns High School (1518 Main Road, Johns Island)
Friends and loved ones of prominent Charleston community activist Abe Jenkins Jr. are remembering his service-minded spirit today after the news of his reported passing this afternoon.
The grandson of Esau Jenkins, the pioneering sea island civil rights activist, Abe Jenkins Jr. was born in 1955 and spent much of his adult life in service to a number of political and community causes. A fixture in local Democratic Party circles and frequent advisor to national figures looking to make local inroads, Abe Jenkins had community service in his blood.
In a 2016 interview with City Paper sister publication Charleston Currents, he spoke to his grandfather’s legacy that grew from the Progressive Club on Johns Island.
“What began in that co-op was a Citizenship School to teach Blacks on Johns Island how to qualify to register to vote. Later, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference spread that program throughout the South,” Jenkins said. “That one class in the co-op became thousands of classes in churches, schools and homes.”
Panels from the Volkswagen microbus used by Esau Jenkins’ family to transport voters, workers and others with the Progressive Club are on display as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
As recently as last year, Abe Jenkins Jr. helped revive the Progressive Club on Johns Island, starting an entrepreneurship training course as the area continues its rapid change.
“Development and the demographic shift has impacted the Johns Island community tremendously over the past few years, especially as it relates to the African-American and Hispanic communities,” he told the City Paper.
On social media, fellow activists and organizers remembered Abe Jenkins Jr. late Monday afternoon.
“I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day,” said Charleston state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, on Twitter. “Abe Jenkins was a living sermon and the epitome of a public servant. Simply put, he put in the work. Take your rest Abe and thank you for your service. We are much better off because you lived sir.”
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg noted, “Abe lived a vital life of service and sacrifice and joy and love.”
State Rep. J.A. Moore said, “Abe Jenkins, similar to myself, was a son of the civil rights movement. … The Lowcountry, South Carolina and the entire country is a better place because he lived.”
Former Charleston city councilman and Republican state Rep. Jimmy Bailey, of Charleston, said Jenkins was one-of-a-kind.
“There are but a few people who motivate and stand tall to do the right thing without seeking praise. Abe Jenkins was one of these people. He was streetwise and smart, but most of all he was a people person. That trait eliminated questions about motive from the onset. Charleston has lost a good friend and community worker.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison also shared his condolences.
“Abe was pure of heart and extremely loyal,” he wrote. “You could always depend on good ‘ol Abe. I will miss my dear friend.”
Jenkins often spoke of younger generations of activists who would eventually assume leadership roles and enact change.
Activist, organizer and commentator Tamika Gadsden said Jenkins “empowered me, showed up for me. I’m learning that he was like that with so many folks.”
Jenkins shared similar sentiments with Charleston-area activist Justin Hunt: “Last words Abe Jenkins told me was that it was time for the youth to step and take their place in the fight for our people. That will always stay with me.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham said, “Abe was a born helper and spent his whole life lifting people up and giving back to the community he loved so much.”
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