HVA Shows How It Rescued The Civil Rights Era 'Jenkins VW'

Sep 12, 2019 2 min read
HVA Shows How It Rescued The Civil Rights Era 'Jenkins VW'

This Volkswagen's trip to Washington, D.C. was not an easy one.

After 47 years of sitting in a South Carolina backyard, the 1966 Volkswagen Type 2 formerly used by civil rights pioneers Esau and Janie B. Jenkins will be on display in Washington, D.C. for a week during Cars at the Capital later this month. The process of getting the Volkswagen there was no easy task, and the Historic Vehicle Association revealed what went into unearthing this important vehicle.

Volkswagen Helps Preserve Civil Rights VW 'Jenkins Bus'

Buried up to its rocker panels in dirt and suffering from heavy structural damage due to rust, it took hours of careful work to get the Volkswagen free. But the job wasn't done there. A removable tube frame was installed so that the vehicle could be moved easier without affecting the integrity of the Bus, and the collapsed roof and rusted-off doors were repaired and reinstalled. Special chemicals were also used to remove moss and mold, and that helped bring back some of the van's colors. Click here to see a time lapse video of the Volkswagen being rescued.

This Volkswagen played a pivotal role as the Jenkinses did what they could to improve the civil rights of African-Americans in their hometown of Johns Island, South Carolina. They would organize rides to help people in their community get to school and work, and along the way they would help teach their passengers to read in order to pass the literacy test required to become registered voters back then. They operated this Bus as part of The Progressive Club they had founded in 1948, which housed everything from a grocery store to a community center and had been visited by civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The building was heavily damaged and nearly destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

After Esau passed away in 1972, the Bus was parked in the family's backyard and wasted away in the South Carolina elements until it was rescued by the HVA earlier this year. The van had "Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive" painted on the back hatch, and this part of the vehicle was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2014. The work done to rescue and preserve this Bus ensures that this inspiring vehicle will be around for future generations to see.

Volkswagen Helps Preserve Civil Rights VW 'Jenkins Bus'

The Jenkinses' 1966 Volkswagen Type 2 was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register this year along with astronaut Alan Bean's 1969 Chevrolet Corvette, and it will be displayed in D.C. from September 20th through the 26th. It's unclear where this Bus will reside after that, but it's definitely getting a better home than where it sat for almost 50 years.


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