The Progressive Club was a gathering place on Johns Island during the 1960s | Credit: Cantbeatpie via Wikimedia

The Johns Island institution that helped long-disenfranchised Black residents get the opportunity to vote more than 60 years ago is helping to offer hope to residents in a new way.

The Progressive Club, a cooperative started in 1948 as a center for education, voter registration and civil rights, is teaming with Hebron-Zion Presbyterian Church and the Center for a Better South to offer entrepreneurship training to help residents on Johns Island to generate more family revenue.  

In the 1960s, founder and civil rights pioneer Esau Jenkins and organizer Septima Clark operated the nation’s first citizenship schools to train people In the Jim Crow South to get registered to vote.  Jenkins also drove people to jobs and the polls in a green Volkswagen van marked with the words “Love is progress and hate is expensive.”  It now is exhibited in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. 

Esau Jenkins (front), Alfred Fields and the Rev. Willis Goodwin | Credit: Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston
File photo

“Entrepreneurship may be the only way to maintain stability for the indigenous people who remain here on Johns Island,” said Abraham Jenkins Jr., an organizer who is Esau’s grandson.  “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 Hispianic communities.

“Low wages, increasing property values and the lack of affordable housing has expedited a mass relocation movement of a new generation of young people from the island.”

via Cantbeatpie / Wikimedia

In recent months, the center has offered three adult entrepreneurship classes in Charleston County based on the successful YEScarolina youth business training started in 2004 by former state Rep. Jimmy Bailey of Charleston.

“After the injustices of the past several years, I decided that we could teach entrepreneurship to adults as we had to young people,” he said.  “There are many talented African Americans  in our community making money for other people.  I want to show as many as I can how to make  money for themselves.”

Up to 15 people will be trained in the November sessions, which will be led by the Rev. Charles C. Heyward Sr., a noted Presbyterian minister.  All nine sessions, which will be offered from Nov. 1 to Nov. 18, will be held online.  The deadline to apply is Oct. 31.  Contact Jenkins for more information and an application at (843) 801-8003 or abjenkinsjr@gmail.com.

Bailey urged people to get training before quitting any job to start a business.

“This education is meant to show how to start a business and hopefully as a part-time venture — and if successful, maybe full-time,” he said.  “I believe it is possible to add to a person’s income in the beginning.”