Signs honoring literacy hero misspell his name

The Esau Jenkins Bridge signs over Church Creek between John’s and Wadmalaw islands were misspelled.

JOHN’S ISLAND — Imagine how Esau Jenkins would feel.

The Sea Islands leader founded the First Citizenship School in the 1950s to teach literacy so island folks could vote.

He was the man who cut and carried wood to heat the schoolhouse for kids. He personally bused them to the Charleston peninsula so they could attend high school.

Imagine him looking at the signs erected on the Church Creek bridge to honor him, the signs that read “Easu Jenkins.”

“It really just doesn’t make any American sense that people would make that kind of mistake,” said Bill Saunders, the John’s Island civil rights leader who attended Jenkins’ wood-heated school.

The gaffe was glaring enough that no sooner than the S.C. Department of Transportation put up the signs at either end of the bridge between Johns and Wadmalaw islands, workers took them back down.

New signs will be erected Monday, said Pete Poore, DOT communications director.

Safe to say, these signs will be spell-checked.

Jenkins, who died in the 1970s, was a visionary for the Sea Islands, Saunders said.

“Before he would let you be part of a class, you had to tell him why you wanted to read and write,” he said.

Among other achievements, Jenkins helped bring medical care to the islands after residents died while waiting for help, stalled at the open drawbridge on the Stono River.

His memory is revered. Saunders expects to hear about the misspelled signs on Sunday at his church, Wesley United Methodist, where Jenkins also was a member.

Inadvertent or not, that kind of disrespect has repercussions on the Sea Islands, he said.

“You get people reacting, and not just to that. They start thinking about other things,” he said.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.