The Jennings Heritage Project

The Jennings Heritage Project (JHP) is a program of the Agribusiness Council (ABC)'s Heritage Preservation Committee which comprises educational outreach on American history. The project features slide/lecture presentations, articles and documented, inspired storytelling, featuring individuals, events and places drawn from one of America's oldest families with emphasis on character and leadership development for young people. The JHP seeks funding to raise awareness of the agrarian/rural tradition which weaves a dominant thread through the annals of the nation and Jennings family lore (and forms a unique subtheme within the project).

In the aftermath of September 11, our nation has begun to reassess its meaning and basic beliefs as part of a complex realignment which touches all aspects of our national and individual lives. At its core, the challenge facing us requires a re-dedication to those civic spirits and principles which led our founding fathers to create this nation. It is our duty to reexamine and rekindle lessons of our shared heritage, especially for our younger people, in this rare watershed of our nation's history. As we draw upon our resources personally and collectively, we will need to pull together and muster all the discipline, vigilance, and strength we can summon.

The Jennings Heritage Project, which was initiated through several recognition projects (i.e., Jennings Randolph, William Jennings Bryan, James Longstreet, James Wormley) before the horrific terror attacks, is well-positioned as a national educational networking campaign to respond to this need.

Since the passing of our late chairman, former U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) in 1998, these recognition projects have generated considerable national attention, featuring accomplishments and values of unheralded figures interwoven with history. For example, few Americans realize that Randolph is the "Father of the 26th Amendment" (1971) which gave 18-20 year-olds the right to vote. Randolph's perseverance, introducing the legislation eleven times before success during the Vietnam War forms a curious link to his namesake, William Jennings Bryan, whose stalwart support of women's suffrage (19th Amendment), direct election of senators, campaign finance reform, anti-trust and other progressive causes throughout a long political career resonates across the twentieth century into the present.

Facing this challenging period, many Americans are turning to history, genealogy, and theology for reassurance. The problem is a kind of "American amnesia," for its own history. Many Americans do not know much about their chronological past, and collectively this can be dangerous, especially as this ignorance can cripple our sense of existence, placement/preparation in the context of a broader history as well as our understanding of and interaction with other cultures. Our educational system and our families have fallen short in teaching history - and now we must take steps to remedy the situation.

History is about stories. In order to be interesting and inspire further inquiry, history is often best taught through researching real lives and achievements, entwined within the broader sweep of events and themes, linked to present issues or contexts.

Results Expected
The JHP is generating educational programs, research ideas, articles and media benefits to local organizers in the complex task of establishing a free-standing, informal history network in cooperation with existing civic organizations such as state agribusiness councils, the YMCA, Kiwanis Clubs, Civil War roundtables, local historical and genealogical societies, and other similar organizations interested in American history. Results include increased information flow and contacts, especially between urban and rural sectors with an underlying concern for the state of rural America and our nation's agricultural heritage.

Heritage/ABC Experience
The Jennings family is one of America's oldest, arriving in the New World in the 1630s. Many of its early pioneering members were at the frontier edge during each stage of the Nation's move west in the drive for Manifest Destiny. Along the Ohio and across the Oregon Trail, members of this peregrinating family were among the leaders. Jennings also played an important role in the settlement of the Carolinas, and the deep south, including the development of Florida.

Family records are well-documented and contain inspiring lore for all Americans to recapture. In addition to military, political and pioneering heritage, farming was an important avocation cutting across generations of Jennings in virtual every region of the country, contributing to a deep sense of traditional values.

As pressure increases in rural America, with the continuing grind of one of the nation's worst agricultural recessions in our history, the plight of America's farmers and small agribusinesses needs attention. It is ironic that in the broader crisis since September 11, the nation's food security has been placed at greater risk, largely due to greed of special interests and ignorance of the general public - of agriculture's and food systems realities. At a time when many Americans are searching for history's lessons and stability provided by traditional values and the heartland, the media is dominated by price-fixing scandals, international trade disputes centered on agriculture, genetic engineering issues, tainted meat and school lunches, ethanol and farm foreclosures. A few years ago the USDA even abolished its own office of history over cries of protest.

Formed in 1967 after a White House meeting between President Lyndon Johnson and Henry Heinz of Heinz Food Company, the Agribusiness Council (ABC) has developed considerable experience in working with agricultural preservation/history and civic associations. ABC's Heritage Preservation Committee (HPC) has been in the vanguard of efforts to protect agricultural history in coordinating with state counterpart associations and HPC has worked closely with groups interested in preserving agriculture's role in the broader understanding of American history (see outline for Heritage Preservation Committee at ABC is a nonprofit and tax-exempt 501(c) (3) voluntary organization.

Method of Operation
JHP would utilize funding to develop research and outreach kits on particular Jennings leaders in relation to historical events and circulate these materials and articles through the internet, traditional media, and educational institutions. A good example of how this campaign would work can be illustrated with the Stephen Jennings "Cornerstone of Courage" article (February-May 2002). The article was researched and written from sources at the Library of Congress, then published in the Union News/Springfield MA (May 13) and circulated widely on the internet in a subsite created by the HPC. The article has sparked international interest and was very positively acclaimed in Canada (Quebec), as it underscored early cooperation between French and English colonies. Teacher trainer kits have been produced and circulated for civics education.

Future Direction and Activities
JHP will undertake to poll its contributors and subscribers with the objective of convening a national meeting/reunion for those interested in developing programs/themes working with pioneering, military, and civic/political leadership examples demonstrated by different Jennings lives throughout U.S. history. Leadership in existing recognition projects, including former President Jimmy Carter, would also be consulted for ideas/suggestions on tailoring the project outreach for maximum positive effectiveness.

(Photo courtesy of Jennings Heritage archives)

QUABOAG HISTORY -- Nick Hollis speaking on Jennings Heritage before historical consortium in West Brookfield, Massachusetts (April 25, 2004). Ancestor, Calvin Jennings, appears on PowerPoint slide presentation.

JHP is partially supported in its work by voluntary contributions from individuals (both Jennings family members and others) who wish to see the research promulgated and shared in articles, lecture/slide presentations, and internet publication with a broader public at this unique time of testing in our nation's history. Contributors will be listed on the Web site and in all publications (unless requested otherwise), will be invited to all events, and will receive periodic updates on the project's progress. JHP needs untied funding support for Web site maintenance/development, travel, printing/mailing, research interns, and other costs.

JHP will be financed through contributions, grants, honoraria, and private documents as its programs reach further into the humanities arena. Private funding will be essential to maintaining the program's independence from individual institutions, foundations, and/or government.    



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