Samuel Jenkins Sr., a one-time potato farmer who rose to become Baldwin County’s first and only African-American county commissioner, died in his sleep on Feb. 25 at his home in Daphne. Jenkins was 90.
Jenkins and current County Commissioner Frank Burt ran together for the commission in 1988. Jenkins served until 2000 while Burt, 84, is still in office today.
Burt said Jenkins “was a dear, dear friend of mine.”
“We rode many a mile together looking at roads, meeting with folks and trying to help them,” Burt said. “He was certainly an advocate for people and honesty and hard work.”
Born in 1926, Jenkins was part of a large family and grew up on a farm between Loxley and Daphne, Burt said. He served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines during World War II.
Marrying and settling in Daphne, Jenkins worked as a potato farmer, as an independent trucker, as an employee of the Alabama State Employment Service and eventually as a superintendent for the Del Monte Banana Co. He was a union president of the Banana Handlers Local 1516 in Mobile.
Jenkins was also the first African-American to chair the Baldwin County Commission. During his three terms in office, the commission had seven districts rather than the current four. Jenkins’ district ran from Little River to Daphne.
“One of his sayings was, ‘I have no friends to favor or enemies to punish,’” Burt recalled. “He practiced that. He controlled his anger, if he ever had any.”
Burt recalled that he, Jenkins and state Rep. Joe Faust, then a Baldwin County Commissioner, enjoyed traveling with their spouses to conventions, conferences and other events. Of Jenkins and his wife, the late Willa Jackson Jenkins, Burt said, “They were a beautiful couple and a loving couple, good Christian folks. They could cut it on the dance floor, too.”
As a commissioner, Jenkins was a strong advocate for public access to the Baldwin County waterfront, Burt said. Jenkins told stories of jubilees on the Eastern Shore when he was growing up, and would have opened the entire coastline to the public if he could.
Jenkins used to say, “If it’s wide enough for a kid to walk down with a fishing pole, then we need to protect it and keep it open,” Burt recalled.
As chairman, Jenkins ran an efficient meeting, Burt said. “He was the one that brought a little egg timer to the commission and introduced it — for three minutes if you got up to talk. The commission adopted that.”
He also kept Burt calm. “He calmed me down lots of times when I was about to get too rowdy. We sat next to each other in the commission meeting room. And if I would get to be a little anxious he seemed to be able to tell. He’d just reach over gently and touch my arm.”
In November 2000 Jenkins, a Democrat, was defeated for re-election by Republican Jonathan Armstrong. At the time, the Press-Register reported that the three African-Americans on the Baldwin County ballot were all defeated. After redistricting the previous year, Jenkins’ district had changed from majority black to majority white, the newspaper noted.
In 2012, the Alabama Legislature agreed to rename in Jenkins’ honor a stretch of U.S. 90 from County Road 13 to Highway 181. He was honored locally by the County Commission and the Daphne City Council.
A resolution honoring Jenkins’ life was on the agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Four of his five sons survive their father along with nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Jenkins’ funeral was held Saturday at Mt. Baptist Church. Burial was in Mt. Aid Church Cemetery.