1966 Volkswagen Transporter (van)
Born in 1910 and married in 1927, Esau and Janie B. Jenkins had a significant impact on American history. By working to better the lives of the people of Johns Island, SC, the couple helped shape the Civil Rights Movement.
Successful business owners and parents of 13 children, the Jenkins became leaders in their community. Throughout their lives, they strove to better the economic, cultural, and political situation of African Americans on Johns Island and the surrounding area. Spurred into action by brutal acts of racial oppression, Esau and Janie B. helped establish the Progressive Club in 1948. The organization became a community center and co-op that provided everything from voter and literacy education to childcare and a grocery store. The Jenkins launched a bus line to help the poverty-stricken people of the island community. On the buses, Esau taught his passengers how to read and the knowledge needed to pass tests meant to bar African Americans from voting. The Jenkins helped register thousands of voters on the Sea Islands working with the civil rights leaders Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson. The Jenkins, Clark and Robinson would develop a Citizenship School at the Progressive Club in 1957—the first of many in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. Among their countless acts of advocacy to uplift the community, the Jenkins went on to establish the Citizens’ Committee of Charleston County and founded the C.O. Credit Union to give the African Americans access to fair financial services.
In approximately 1967, Esau purchased a used 1966 Volkswagen Deluxe Station Wagon (also known as a “Micro Bus” or “microbus”). It was utilized by the Jenkins as their primary means of transportation and to support their various initiatives. Emblazoned with Esau’s moto “Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive” hand painted on the rear engine cover and hatch, and “Citizens’ Committee” on the sides, the green Volkswagen became a fixture in the Charleston area during this time. Shortly after Esau passed away in 1972, the VW, which had front end collision damage, made its way into the family’s backyard next to the Progressive Club. Over the years multiple hurricanes and the elements took their toll on the VW. However, much of the VW survives today and in 2014 the family donated the rear panels with Esau’s moto to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.
In 2019, the Historic Vehicle Association working with the Jenkins family and the College of Charleston excavated the microbus from its 40-year slumber with the help of The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage.
Upon removing the microbus, the HVA proceeded to stabilize the vehicle’s severe corrosion. A large portion of the front A- and B- pillars had lost all structural rigidity and the three passenger doors were rusted off at their hinges. Moreover, much of the floor had rusted out, the seats had little upholstery remaining and the brakes were locked up. The determination was made with the Jenkins family to preserve the vehicle as an unrestored artifact rather than restore it to operating condition. To attempt to restore it to operable condition would require massive amounts of structural repair, in turn, eliminating a large portion of the vehicle’s original steel and character. In July 2019, The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage freed the wheels allowing the VW to roll freely and constructed an internal skeleton from steel tubing to brace the car’s weakened body and frame. The steel tubing has an integral custom fixture that also allows the doors to be mounted to the vehicle without disrupting the VW’s original finishes and body work.
The Volkswagen was then transported to the skilled team of conservationists at BR Howard & Associates for a thorough cleaning and stabilization of remaining corrosion. Additional hand lettering was discovered after the paint finishes were cleaned. The process was important to kill biological growth and remove dirt and other contaminates through a misting system of distilled water mixed with ammines and surfactants and a chelating gel mixture. BR Howard removed rust scaling and applied rust stabilizers throughout and coated the exterior paint with consolidation varnishes to arrest future corrosion.
Today the vehicle remains in the care of the Jenkins family and is being displayed at various museums around the country after its debut on the National Mall in 2019 for the HVA’s annual Cars at the Capital exhibition.
Paint and exterior
This vehicle is in unrestored condition. Repairs have been made over the vehicle’s lifetime.
Upholstery and interior
This vehicle’s interior is in unrestored condition. It features green and beige vinyl upholstery.
Air-cooled, Volkswagen OHV flat 4-cyl 1493cc/88 hp with 1bbl carburetor. Unrestored.
This vehicle was originally used by Esau and Janie B. Jenkins for the Progressive Club. It is now on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA. Its displayed mileage is 96,839 miles.
Wheels and tires
Original 14” steel wheels with hubcaps, 7.00x14” bias-ply tires
Four-wheel manual hydraulic drum brakes
Volkswagen synchronized 4-speed transaxle, mechanically actuated clutch via cable