Rescued: the Microbus that Helped Civil Rights in South Carolina

You may know about the National Register of Historic Places; locations that are key to the history of the United States of America that deserve to be protected and restored. But did you know there’s also the National Historic Vehicle Register? Just like historic homes and buildings, the Historic Vehicle Association identifies significant cars and trucks that are part of the Country’s history. The Register contains the “Bullitt” Mustang, the original Meyers Manx dune buggy, and even the first Dodge Caravan.

Earlier this year, the 26th vehicle was added; Esau and Janie B. Jenkins own 1966 Volkswagen Deluxe Station Wagon, or Microbus as they’re more commonly called. What is significant about this very run-down van? Esau and Janie were Civil Rights pioneers in South Carolina. They created The Progressive Club, a co-op that included a daycare, a classroom, grocery store, and gas station for the marginalized people of the South. Esau’s ’66 Bus was his daily driver and it was seen all over South Carolina transporting people and children to help them get a better life.

When the HVA sought to add the “Jenkins VW” to the Register, they had quite task on their hands. How do you extract a very rusty and ready-to-collapse van that’s sunken into the earth? It was no easy undertaking, and they’ve documented the process on their website. There are some gorgeous photos and a time-lapse video on the site as well.

The HVA also made the tough call not to restore the Bus, but to stabilize and preserve it in the condition it is now. They’ve partnered with BR Howard and Associates and The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage to conserve the Jenkins VW.

Check out the progress on this piece of history and read more on this Bus’s history on HVA’s site. And if you’re in the Washington D.C. area, the Jenkins VW is on display on the National Mall as part of Cars at the Capital now through 9/27.