We were in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, where we leaned about Esau and Janie B. Jenkins. The couple lived on Johns Island adjacent to Charleston. The Jenkins were deeply religious and took the bible edict that we are our brothers keepers to heart.
During the 1940’s and 1950’s the Jenkins decided to buy a few VW buses to transport their own 13 children and others to school in Charleston. They also transported workers to their jobs in the city. While on the bus, they taught folks to read the part of the constitution they needed to know to register to vote. The Jenkins also operated a vegetable and fruit stand, restaurant, a portion of Atlantic Beach for African American access to public beaches and were instrumental in organizing the Progressive Club of Johns Island. The Progressive Club, consisting of a community grocery store, gas station, and recreation/education center, also housed one of the citizenship schools established throughout the South during the civil rights movement.
Cuyler-Brownesville and Metropolitan neighborhoods in Savannah Georgia were originally planned and established after the Civil War as free Black neighborhoods. Since Blacks could not access schools, hospitals, stores, restaurants or essentially any institution owned or frequented by Whites, Black business people and professionals made their homes here and it became the center of the Black middle class of Savannah. The communities were largely self-sufficient.
Most of the info and pictures in this post is from an article by Mike Walker, a grad student at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). I recommend a read. He has been documenting the architecture and unique characteristics of these communities, because like most places in the U.S., they are becoming gentrified and losing their character.
There were corner stores on just about every residential street, usually grocers, with the unique feature of a doorway cut in diagonally. Most are no longer operating; as car ownership increased, it was no longer imperative to have a corner grocer on every block. As efforts increase to become a less car dependent society to address climate change, I wonder if we will see a re-emergence of corner stores. In cities that have good public transportation, they still exist.
Many businesses in Cuyler-Brownesville had hand-painted commercial signage, a creative tradition in the South especially prevalent in African-American neighborhoods. Lettering on such signs is calligraphic or in the style of hand-lettering used by graphic designers for poster and print work prior to the advent of digital desktop publishing, The signs are large, colorful and often includes drawings related to the business at hand—such as scissors and a blow-dryer for a beauty parlor or crabs and lobsters for a seafood shop. (Williams, et al; 204–205)
Along the highway near Orlando we noticed brand new railroad tracks under construction. You don’t see that every day, so we stopped to investigate. Turns out that there is a new high speed private rail line, Brightline, that will run from Orlando airport to Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Miami and Boca Raton. We noticed that they are using concrete ties rather than wood ties and wondered what the environmental impact of this is considering that production of cement is not at all climate friendly. We did a little research and found numerous articles saying that if one looks 100 years down the road, concrete ties are much more durable and are more environmentally friendly to produce than wood.
Brightline is clearly appealing to people with money and is using the airline model of business class and first-class. If you choose “Premium” (first class) you will have your own station “lounge” and train cars so you never need to mingle with the common folk. I don’t think this pushes us toward a more just society. The good news is that they have EV shuttle buses and biodiesel-electric engines powered by FPL, clean biodiesel for lower emissions and reduced noise.
According to NPR reporting, former Florida Governor Rick Scott (and current U.S. Senator) has a financial interest in Brightline and killed a federally funded project to build a high speed rail in Florida. While new electric and biofuel high-spreed rail lines is to be encouraged, in my opinion this could be done in a much better way.
One of the real treats of time spent in Florida is the birds. It is the first place I became interested in bird watching in my youth. We have had beautiful weather- sunny every day and very warm. We are soaking it in!
We stayed in the historic downtown district Savannah, Georgia for one night. Did you know that Savannah is the third largest port in the U.S.? It was surprising to us to learn this because Savannah is on the Savannah River rather than directly on the coast.
Savannah is a beautiful city, a tourist mecca with a river walk full of restaurants and shops, an outdoor walking mall called City Market, interesting architecture and a rich history to learn about. There is an ugly history of slavery to contend with and there is also some evidence that the city is moving forward with this. The Mayor and City Council unanimously voted to “unname” Calhoun Square, named after John C. Calhoun, a vice president to John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and staunch advocate of slavery, supporting expansion of slavery into what would become the American West. The square was also built over a cemetery for enslaved people.The Center for Jubilee, Reconciliation and Healing (an organization worth reading about) is pushing for the square to be renamed for Susie King Taylor , who was enslaved as a girl and became a civil war nurse and teacher.
Formerly named Calhoun Square in Savannah
We intend to stop in Savannah on our way home. So much to see and do!
We stopped to see our friends Kevin and Michelle, who now live in Sylvania, Georgia, On our way there from Rock Hill, SC we traveled through almost 200 miles of the rural South. We saw pecan orchards, fallow cotton fields, lots of stands of pine for pulp lumbering and many Baptist churches.
Kevin and Michelle have a beautiful country home that Michelle’s father designed and built. They are in the process of doing some major renovations.
The Thompsons have a lake right outside their back door and yes, there are alligators in that lake! We learned how to catch an alligator: you get a long pole, secure it to the bank and tie a rope on the end to hang just above the water with a big hook on it. Tie a chicken on the end of the rope. Wait. Before long. the alligator will jump out of the water, swallow the chicken and the hook will get caught in its stomach. If it does not die right away, you can shoot it i n the head. You should call the state wild life control people to come out and do this!
Springfield, SC, population 455, is a sleepy town as evidenced by the sign on the main street and their on-line calendar, which is blank. However, the Governor’s Frog Jumping competition has been happening here on Easter weekend for 50 years!
The town has been losing population and many storefronts were abandoned, but even at it’s heyday in 1930, there were only 930 people living here. We saw very little activity here, except at the Dollar General. There is a livestock auction and flea market, venues that are unique for the area. According to their website, Springfield Flea Market, oldest in the state, draws thousands of vendors and customers each Saturday. It made me feel sad to see all of the abandoned houses and run down storefronts, but really who am I to judge? Folks who live here might like it just the way it is. I do know there are many towns in rural America like this in every state. What can happen to help these towns survive?
Today we stopped in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where I was born on Dec 1st, 1955, the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. My parents moved there for my father’s first teaching position at Winthrop College in August of 1954. They hated it here due to Jim Crow laws that were strictly enforced. They were told the rules explicitly and were chastised when they did not follow them.
To give a little background, on May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
According to an article called The Great White Heist in Yes! magazine, “Even though South Carolina was 40% Black in 1948, statewide, Black schools were worth $12.9 million while white schools were worth $68.4 million. If those white students succeeded in their resource-filled schools, they could go on to one of more than a dozen public institutions of higher learning in South Carolina. However, if the Black graduates wanted to attend a state college, because of state segregation laws there was only one choice—South Carolina State College—the only public Black college in the state. This detail wouldn’t be important except for three important facts about the taxpayers whose money actually funded South Carolina’s whites-only state post-secondary schools and the one historically Black college, post emancipation: 1.) South Carolina taxpayers paid for seven whites-only colleges. 2.) South Carolina taxpayers paid for zero Black colleges. (South Carolina State University was a land-grant college, which meant it was founded with federal money after the Civil War) and 3.) the majority of South Carolina taxpayers were Black.
Black parents in towns all over South Carolina immediately petitioned to desegregate schools. As a response, White Citizens’ Councils and new chapters of the Klu Klux Klan were formed in many towns. Petitioners and NAACP folks were often given 30 days to move away and threatened with violence. On August 27 a newly organized Klan met midway between Summerton and Manning, South Carolina on U.S. 301, where the rally couldn’t be missed. Speaker Bryant Bowles, of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, drew 1,000 in robes. (storiesofstruggle.com).
I was born at York County Hospital in Rock Hill, which was built in 1940. It actually served both Black and White patients, which was unusual at the time. In many towns, Black folks had to travel many miles to find a hospital that would serve them. My mother, with two babies under two years old and pregnant with a third, hired a Black woman to help her. She was explicitly told she should not sit down and eat lunch with her, give her a ride home or “overpay” her. My mother defied this “advice” and I really don’t know whether it was their choice or not, but my parents moved back to New York State after two years in Rock Hill. I suspect that their refusal to follow Jim Crow laws may have resulted in my father losing his job. I am proud of the courage my parents showed, standing up for what they thought was right, even if they did not put their lives on the line for the cause. My parents have passed now. I find myself once again wishing I asked more questions to know more about their lives, especially their time in the South. There is no one left to ask now.
1955 was several years before the lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Summer Voter Registration Drive, the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other well known civil rights actions. It was the year Emmett Til was killed in Mississippi, which sparked the public outrage that led to the civil rights movement. Stay tuned for other post while we are here.
It is nice to see signs of progress amidst the political regression and violence that we see on the news every day. I am inspired by small signs of progress at the local level. This is the first historical marker in South Carolina that mentions the terror and persecution of Black people by the Ku Klux Klan. It also celebrates the liberation migration of Blacks in this town to Liberia.
Here is a video of decendants of Elias Hill and others in the community celebrating the installation of the plaque. It is interesting to note that in 1871, the same year that the folks emigrated to Liberia, the U.S. Congress passed the Ku Klux KLan Act that authorized the President to intervene in the former rebel states that attempted to deny “any person or any class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges or immunities under the laws.” To take action against this newly defined federal crime, the President could suspend habeas corpus, deploy the U.S. military, or use “other means, as he may deem necessary.” The Ku Klux Klan were driven out of South Carolina and completely dismantled for a time until it resurfaced toward the beginning of the 20th century. According to Wikipedia, several of the act’s provisions still exist today, the most important of these is 42 U.S.C.§ 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights. It is the most widely used civil rights enforcement statute, allowing people to sue in civil court over civil rights violations.