Inspiration in Progress…
I once read something long ago that has stuck with me until this day: “Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” I hear it on repeat inside my head anytime I want to be lazy about my studies or anytime I think that I cannot achieve a goal. I hear it now as I stand in front of the building known as The Progressive Club—and I am instantly filled with sadness. Here sits what many consider the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, a building now decrepit and isolated, on Johns Island—a short ride outside of Charleston, SC. Twenty-five years ago, the destructive forces of Hurricane Hugo nearly demolished the building. It now stands without a roof. Complete sections of wall are gone as if they have vanished into the sea-breezed air. The interior—left exposed to the elements—looks as weathered as the mossy white walls that remain. The place itself is cut off from the public, encompassed by a vine-consumed, chain-link fence with a lock. I can’t even touch the building with my hands.
Wishing to get a more thorough look, I step up to the side of the building closest to the fence. I am unsettled that the view is mostly blocked by a sparse-leaved oak tree with long strings of Spanish moss and a white sign nailed to the side facing traffic. Ignoring it in irritation, I inch as close to the fence as possible, squinting through vines and hanging moss to read another sign, old and dirt covered, posted on what used to be the front door.
Please Help Restore
This Landmark. Built
In The early 60’s
I see partially washed out words that look like “please call…” only the phone number is completely wiped away. I walk over to the information plague to the left that briefly details the Progressive Club’s history. Founded by Civil Rights activist Esau Jenkins in 1948 and built in 1962, it served as a store and community center for the people here. The first Citizenship school was actually just a classroom located in the back of the building. Black adults would meet here—in secret—to learn to read and write so they could exercise their right to vote. It has been registered as a historic site in the National Register of Historic Places since 2007.
Moving behind the view-blocking tree, I read the sparingly-informative sign. It looks as if someone has taken an interest in restoring the place, with the sign proudly stating that the building is in “Phase 1: Drive.” There is nothing explaining what “drive” means; only a phone number to call for more information.
I am still upset. Why has this place—with so much historical significance—not been better loved, better cared for? There are no passing tour buses, no influx of visitors, no roof, no walls. Martin Luther King Jr. and Septima Clark have stood on this very ground and made great strides for colored people in this nation.
Looking, once more, through the grassy fence, I see stacks of cinder blocks piled up in one of the back rooms. Someone was ready to do something. I am filled with a sudden desire to join the cause of fixing the Progressive Club and encouraging people to seek information about its history and significance.
I take out my phone and snap some pictures so I don’t forget what it looks like, so I won’t forget what it should mean to me. My gratitude for this place, the people who made it special, and those who have continued it legacy is monumental. It is, after all, the reason I can vote, go to any college I chose, and have any job I wish to have.
I’ve toured plantation homes in South Carolina, have visited the old slave-trade mart in downtown Charleston, and have seem numerous statues of Confederate “heroes” all over the South, but I have only just found out about the great endeavors that happened in the Progressive Club. I came hoping to be inspired to set high goals for myself. Now I’m inspired to help it. I look back at the “Drive” poster with a satisfying thought: I have a phone number to call.
About the Author: Attya Davis is a College of Charleston senior majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing . She has been writing fiction stories since the tender age of 10 and her passion for it has yet to die out. Attya wishes to travel the world in the hope of finding more hidden gems to inspire her writings and all those who read them.