Photo exhibit highlights black history on Johns Island
JOHNS ISLAND — Esau Jenkins made a bold move in the 1940s when he bought a bus to drive people to jobs off the island.
If you go
WHAT: The Tree of Life, a photography exhibit on black history of Johns Island.WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday; then 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through March 17.WHERE: Johns Island Schoolhouse Museum, 4455 Betsy Kerrison Parkway.To learn more: see www.jicsc.org/tree-of-life.
Before that, black Johns Islanders rarely left their island home, said Colin Cuskley, executive director of the Johns Island Conservancy.
But that isolation created a culturally rich community that comes alive through photographs from the 1966 book “Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life?” by Guy and Candie Carawan, he said. The photographs from the book are by Robert Yellin, and are on display on weekends through March 17 at the Johns Island Schoolhouse Museum.
The conservancy is sponsoring the exhibit, which includes a photograph of Jenkins and his second bus, a Volkswagen from the 1960s.
The photographs and the Carawans’ sound recordings were donated to the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston. The center has loaned them to the conservancy for the exhibit.
“We’re fortunate to have those photographs,” said Avery Center archivist Georgette Mayo. “They give us insight into a community. Without them, we would have only oral history.”
The photographs are from the late 18th century to the civil rights movement, and include everyday life scenes from the island, including a fisherman casting a net, children climbing a tree and people attending church.
Cuskley said he hopes the exhibit educates people about the island’s history, and the strong ties black islanders have to their community.
A lot of controversial issues are happening now on Johns Island, he said, including the completion of Interstate 526, a possible toll road being built across the island, and a special tax arrangement Charleston County is considering for a high-end development on the island’s southern end.
Many black islanders have the perception that people don’t understand their history and communities, and that their needs aren’t considered when large development projects are undertaken, he said.
Cuskley also said the photographs are important because they captured life up to the 1960s and the civil rights movement. At that time, he said, “life had changed little in 100 years.”Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.