Black History: Special Delivery!!
Jenkins Institute, originally chartered as, “Jenkins Orphanage” was founded on December 16, 1891 by Pastor Daniel J. Jenkins. It received its official charter from the State of South Carolina in 1892. Its mission was to provide, “a safe, secure, loving home environment for orphans and destitute boys and girls in need”. Jenkins was pastor of a small African American church. He also worked as a labourer. On a cold December day in 1891, Rev. Jenkins was working, hauling timber, when he encountered 4 young boys. They were huddled in a railroad car and had been abandoned by their parents. All of the boys were under the age of 12. The plight of the boys touched Jenkins, as he was also orphaned as a child. Born a slave, he too, was orphaned at a young age and turned off his plantation and left to fend for himself. He then went from farm to farm working for room and board. Jenkins brought the boys home to his wife, Lena, and provided them with food and beds. Though Jenkins and his wife had children of their own and not much money; they did not hesitate to help the young boys who were in need. Their act of kindness to these 4 boys would start a life long journey of helping children.
In 1891, Jenkins petitioned the Charleston City Council to allow him to use space in an abandoned building for the orphanage. Jenkins received approval and a $100 stipend. The first year alone, the orphanage took in 360 boys ranging in age from 5-18. Jenkins soon began to accept children as young as 3 and allowed them to stay until they were 20. Jenkins Orphanage would develop into a structured program which taught domestic and life skills. Classes such as baking, butchering, farming, music, printing, and housekeeping were some of the skills taught at the Institute. Jenkins was a strict disciplinarian and a strong advocate of self-reliance and self help. Religious worship played an important role in the lives of the children living at the orphanage as well. Jenkins’ goal was to prepare children to lead productive lives once they left the orphanage.
One of the most well known programs at the Orphanage was the “Jenkins Orphanage Band”. The band was started when the orphanage received a donation of instruments. Jenkins sought donation of the instruments hoping to start a band that could play concerts to help raise money for the orphanage. Rev. Jenkins hired local musicians to teach the children how to play the instruments. When it first started, it was the only African American instrumental group in South Carolina. The group debuted on the streets of Charleston South Carolina with permission from the mayor, police chief, and Chamber of Commerce. The band acquired both national and international recognition. They travelled to England and performed for the Queen several times. Their international tours provided much needed financial support for the orphanage.
Initially they had to play on the streets of London because they were unable to secure concert venues. They were even arrested for creating a public disturbance at one point. When news of their arrest became know in London, several churches came to their aid and organized venues for them to perform. With their help, Jenkins was able to raise enough money for return passage back to Charleston as well as enough money to purchase land to start an orphanage farm. Jenkins was profiled in the music section of Time Magazine in 1935. Several of the orphanage band members went on to have successful music careers playing with band leaders like Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Lionel Hampton. The band was also highlighted in the Broadway play, “Porgy and Bess” and also played for the presidential inaugurations of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. The band ceased to exist in the 1980’s.
After 125+ years of serving children’ Jenkins Institute is still in operation today. Check out a 1928 performance from the band below: