For the last three years, Chernoff Newman has enjoyed the privilege of concepting and designing the South Carolina African American History Calendar (SCAAHC) on behalf of the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE).
Celebrating African American history through story
The SCAAHC has been in print for 32 years, highlighting individuals from South Carolina who’ve enriched the lives of those around them through activism, education, artistic achievement, athletic excellence and community-building. Each month profiles an honoree carefully selected by the AAHC committee, comprised of subject matter experts, educators, and community members. Days of the calendar mark individual dates of note (152 of them) relating to African American History in South Carolina. The free calendar was originally sponsored by Southern Bell (BellSouth, now AT&T) and is now sponsored by SCDE in partnership with UofSC, ETV, Dominion Energy and AT&T.
Each fall, SCDE hosts a banquet to unveil the upcoming calendar, including a private reception for the Honorees. This year, like many in-person events, the banquet was canceled. In place of that celebration, we made a six-minute video introducing the theme and honorees of the 2021 calendar narrated by the unparalleled Judi Gatson, frequent Emcee of the banquet.
This year’s calendar, featuring the Jenkins’ Orphanage and Band, was out of print before 2021 began with over 40,000 requests. A downloadable version is available on the calendar’s website along with digital versions of every calendar since 1989. The site also features calendar-based lesson plans for teachers as well as other educational materials.
I first learned about the Jenkins’ Orphanage a decade or so ago and have been surprised over time to find how many people from South Carolina aren’t familiar with it. The story of a man and an institution that saved and shaped lives, influenced popular culture and brought positive attention to our state (maybe, just maybe, inspiring “The Charleston” dance craze as well) is one worth sharing. Closely tied to education, we knew the story of the Jenkins’ Orphanage was a perfect visual theme for the calendar and SCDE heartily agreed.
We used custom illustration to bring a historic photo of the band to color for the front of the calendar and featured the same photo on the back in its original form. Each month includes a small photo and information relating to the orphanage. COVID dashed our plans to bring the theme to life at the unveiling ceremony (think brass band!) but for the calendar video we used pieces of actual footage and audio of the band (shot for a newsreel in the 1920s); it’s old and scratchy, but you get a tiny peek of how enthralling a street performance by the Jenkins’ Band might have been all those years ago.
The SCAAHC has always been rooted in education. The inaugural calendar reads, “In response to the need to educate children in our state about Black native South Carolinians, Southern Bell decided to recognize African Americans from South Carolina for their achievements. Citing the need not only for the recording of Black history and updating it in a timely manner but also the need for ready access and daily availability, the vehicle of the calendar was agreed upon.”
A band you should hear
The 2021 SC African American History Calendar features a cover and visual theme that tell the story of the Jenkins’ Orphanage and Band. Rev. Daniel Joseph Jenkins started the orphanage in 1891 after taking in four abandoned children he’d found huddled together in a cold, empty boxcar. The orphanage quickly grew and Jenkins, with donated instruments and the help of two local musicians, organized some of the orphans into a band. Each child was taught to play a variety of instruments and to read music, an opportunity that served them well. When the band was deemed ready for public they gave their first performance in the streets of Charleston. The energy, quality and charisma of their performances soon garnered mounting attention as did the new style of music in which they played.
The band became profitable, helping to sustain the orphanage, and started touring, eventually splitting into as many as five separate bands. Popularity continued for decades as the band toured England, played at the inaugurations of two presidents and performed in Paris, Rome, London, Vienna and Berlin. Success extended to individual performers in the band, many of whom became legendary musicians of their time, helping to shape the sound of jazz as we know it.
Working on the SCAAHC and helping to share the stories of South Carolinians with South Carolinians has been a pleasure we look forward to repeating for years to come!
Please join us in extending our congratulations to this year’s Honorees; click on each photo to read their profiles on the African American History Calendar website.
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