The Bristol Public Library History Room is currently showing an exhibit about prominent Bristolite, Philip Jenkins, in celebration of Black History Month. The exhibit will run through Thursday, Feb. 28, at the library, 5 High St.
Jay Manewitz, Bristol Public Library history librarian, explained that the History Room “is dedicated to the history of our city,” and was created in 1985, in honor of Bristol’s bicentennial.
The History Room includes a collection of “not only books about the history of Bristol,” but old maps, city directories from 1884 to 1990, “which record who lived in Bristol for a given year and what businesses were in Bristol,” as well as church and cemetery records. The collection also boasts 3,000 photographs, 300 postcards, diaries, and “anything we can collect that helps tell the story of Bristol’s history.”
“It’s a story worth telling, and a person from Bristol that I think people should be proud of,” said Manewitz of Philip Jenkins.
Jenkins was born in Bristol in 1898, to Fannie and George Jenkins Jr. The Jenkins family lived on Lewis Street, and according to Manewitz, there was only one other black family in Bristol at the time. Jenkins graduated from Bristol High School in 1916, then he joined the U.S. Army, during which time he served during World War I.
He eventually moved to New York where “in 1955 he created the first black-owned and managed stock investment firm on Wall Street [Special Markets Inc.,].”
Due to his affinity for tinkering with clocks, Jenkins eventually became friends with then-governor of Georgia and his wife, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter. The friendship lasted throughout the Carter White House, and Jenkins received had written letters from First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter, on several occasions.
Not long after Manewitz began working at the Bristol Public Library, the family of Philip Jenkins donated a box of materials that documented Jenkins’ life. This included an unpublished autobiography entitled “The Huckleberry,” the handwritten letters from Rosalynn Carter, a luncheon invitation from the White House under President Dwight Eisenhower, two White House Christmas cards from President Jimmy Carter, and several newspaper clippings with information about Jenkins’ stock investment firm.
“It’s a wonderful treasure trove that highlights the important parts of his life,” said Manewitz. “They [Jenkins’ relatives] very carefully preserved this information, and very generously donated it to us. That’s how our collection grows, all of our material is from donations.”
The Bristol History Room is open every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m., and every Wednesday from 2 to 4, and from 6 to 7:45 p.m., and to help “promote the room we often have special exhibits.”
Manewitz explained that many people visit the History Room because they are fans of local history, as well people who are trying to trace their family’s history.
“I’m not from Bristol originally, but I live here now and I’ve learned over the last 18 years a lot about Bristol history,” said Manewitz, “not just from books, but people who grew up here tell me stories. That’s just as important to me as the things I read in books, because I’ve gotten a great insight into life in Bristol in the past.”
The presentation on Philip Jenkins is not the only way in which the Bristol Public Library plans to celebrate Black History Month.
On Sunday, Feb. 24, from 2 to 3 p.m., speaker William Hosley will be giving a presentation entitled, “Black History is American History: A Travelogue.” According to the library website, Hosley’s presentation will be “an illustrated presentation of places and stories that preserve Black History as American History.”
There will be no charge to attend, but the library asks that those planning to attend RSVP by calling (860) 584-7787 x. 3.
“We have so many events going on on a weekly basis,” said Manewitz. “We’re here to provide information, to entertain the public, to help educate the public, to help enrich their knowledge of history and other subjects, so, it would just make sense that we would reach out to all communities that are here in Bristol.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.