The Marin City 80 celebration will cure your “Blues ‘n’ Soul”

Ella Kharrazi

It is practically impossible not to feel the palpitations from the rhythm as upbeat tunes of blues, jazz and soul float through the air in the sweltering heat. Lawn chairs packed with grinning faces litter the field facing the stage and children dance around, bobbing their heads and jumping to the music. A few people browse the vendors’ tents, selecting a new pair of earrings or commenting on the intricate designs of a blouse. Voices fight to be heard over the increasing chatter, and people clutch tightly to their cool drinks under the radiating sun.

Drawing many to purchase shaved ice in the intense heat, Kona Ice remains a busy truck.

Families and friends immerse themselves in the song and reunite with their community, their laughter ringing beyond the fence, spreading the celebration.

Marking Marin City’s 80th anniversary, the Marin City 80 celebration honors the city’s historical significance and diverse past. In the 1900s, many Black people fled to the Bay Area to work in the shipyards during World War II to escape the South’s Jim Crow laws. Marinship was built in the early 1940s as an emergency shipyard following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Marin City originated from a temporary housing block built by the government in 1942 for its workers. Due to redlining, a form of housing discrimination, the Black population of Marin City remained in the area even after Marinship closed in 1946. 

Attracting music lovers to dance, local artists sing blues live.

Although the Blues ‘n’ Soul Party in the Park festival on Sept. 5 was the official celebration, Marin City 80 also includes an exhibition of art, photos and articles in the Marin Center at The Bartolini Gallery for the duration of Aug. 20 through Nov. 1. The display details the history of housing inequity, Black shipyard builders and other aspects of Black history in Marin City. This year’s Labor Day event additionally launched the Marin City Historical and Preservation Society, a campaign with the goal of archiving pre-existing history and seeking out untold stories of Marin City. The executive producer of the Marin City 80 celebration, Felecia Gaston, discussed the importance of the event for Black history.

“We are primarily focusing on the Black experience because that experience is hardly talked about, even in regular books that talk about Marin City,” Gaston said. “[The Black experience] is unknown, so we are highlighting it.”

In addition to celebrating Black history, the Marin City 80 Blues ‘n’ Soul Party featured festivities, such as live music, shop vendors and food tents, ranging from shaved ice to Fry Daddy’s chicken sandwiches. Vendor and 30 year Marin City resident Junetta Jett remarks on the excitement of the celebration, as she attends the event almost every year.

Explaining “Junetta’s Treasures” to interested customers, Junetta Jett details the origins of the pieces.

“I love everything about [the celebration]. I don’t even know where to start. I love the organization. I love that I live right here in the community, so it is something that represents home. It’s like a family reunion,” Jett said. 

At the festival, Jett sells a collection of trinkets called “Junetta’s Treasures,” including beaded headbands and colorful feathers she has acquired over 50 years. 

“[Each piece] means something to me. I look at some pieces now and I look back on what I used to wear and what holiday it was when I wore it. They bring back a lot of memories,” Jett said. 

Another vendor, Kimberly Marshall, sold her father’s book at the celebration. As a member of the Black Panther party, a historical Black power political organization, her father wrote about his life and the split in the party. Since many within the Black Panther community resided in Marin City, Marshall frequently visited the area from her hometown of San Francisco. However, this was Marshall’s first time attending the festival.

Exhibiting an array of jewelry, a vendor displays pieces from the 1900s.

“I’ve never been here before, but I love seeing all these people come together with music. My favorite part of this event is the people,” Marshall said.

Bringing the community together while honoring Black history, the joyful commemoration of Marin City 80 carried a deeper meaning for many guests. Attendee Laquana Lee reflects on its significance to her.

“This is a festival that I have known since I was a little girl,” Lee said. “I went as a kid, and I love being back and seeing all of Marin City that it was [when I was a child].”