A little co-op helped end black disenfranchisement

It was a small cooperative store on a little-known island off the coast of South Carolina. During the harshest days of the civil rights struggle, embattled black leaders came through its doors seeking inspiration. The co-op was called the Progressive Club, but it’s what began in that co-op that led to a movement that would eventually reshape the South.

The Progressive Club was started in 1948 by Esau Jenkins and 40 families from Johns Island as both a consumer co-op and a mutual-aid organization. The co-op bought an old school building on River Road and sold everything from groceries to gasoline and seed to feed.

The members used it to trade goods and services and as a mutual-aid program to help each other in time of need. Every member of the Progressive Club had to be a registered voter and had to pledge to get one or more voters out to vote on Election Day. But there was one small problem.

In order to become a registered voter in South Carolina at the time, blacks had to pass a literacy exam. Jenkins heard the plea from disenfranchised voters and began taking steps towards solving this issue. During routine bus trips to and from Johns Island, Jenkins would hand out informational pamphlets to his passengers. He began a daily custom of teaching them how to read, write and learn the law while he drove the bus.

Read the full article at the Post and Courier


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