The Cynthia Jenkins School

Cynthia Jenkins (1924 - 2001) was a resident of Springfield Gardens, Queens, a former state assemblywoman, community activist, and a librarian with the Queens Public Library in Southeast Queens, New York.

Essie Cynthia Burnley was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where she graduated with a B.A. from Louisville Municipal College. She met her future husband, Joseph D. Jenkins (1921–2011), a World War II U.S. Army veteran and insurance broker, at a military dance. The couple had one son, Rev. Joseph D. Jenkins Jr. and lived in Springfield Gardens, Queens.

Burnley Graduated with an MS in Library Science from Pratt Institute in 1966 and worked at Queens Public Library for two decades, beginning in 1962. She worked in every Southeast Queens branch of the Queens Library, including Far Rockaway, Rochdale Village and Cambria Heights, where she served as branch manager. She later sued the city to stop the closure of the Southeast Queens library branches based on their circulation. In 1969, along with fellow librarian Ernestine Washington and others, Jenkins helped to form the Black Librarians Caucus.

1969 was also the year that Jenkins founded the Social Concern Committee of Springfield Gardens, an education program, and through that the Housekeeping Vendor Agency and the Social Concern Community Development Corporation, a home health attendant service was created. At the time of her death these two organizations employed over 2000 people.

Jenkins took her first steps in politics in the early 1970s, when she was appointed to the state committee for the 29th Assembly District. Jenkins became a Democratic district leader for the 29th Assembly District in 1978. Four years later, when she was successfully elected to that Assembly seat, Jenkins made history as the first African American woman elected to public office in Southern Queens. In her 12 years in the Assembly, Jenkins served as chairperson of the Subcommittee on Affirmative Action and a delegate to the Governor’s Conference on Libraries in 1990 and the White House Conference on Libraries in 1991. In the 1980s she was instrumental in the state’s decision to bring a Veterans Home to St. Albans. As a former librarian, Jenkins was known in Albany as an advocate for libraries, books, and literacy.


Hendrick, Daniel, “Southeast Queens Remembers Former Assemblywoman, Activist.” Queens Chronicle, November 8, 2001,

Scheinbart, Betsy, “Hundreds mourn Cynthia Jenkins, 77,” QNS, November 8, 2001,