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Marin City woman teaching students about community's Black history

Marin City woman helping area students learn about their community's Black history
Marin City woman helping area students learn about their community's Black history 03:36

Marin County students are learning new details about a little-known period of Black history thanks to a Marin City woman.

Felecia Gaston takes students on a walk through history — history she knew nothing about until she started asking people questions.

"When I asked them, 'How'd you get here?' They'd start sharing their story. These are untold stories," Gaston said.

Asking those questions is how she came to know stories of Black families who had packed up and started over. Gaston displays the suitcase from a friend's family and other artifacts she's collected over 30 years.

Her traveling exhibit, The Legacy of Marin City, brings to life the history of Marin City's Black community from the 1940s to 60s.

"They get a true picture of the struggles and resilience," she said.

This spring, the exhibit is on display at the Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael for the public and students at nearly 70 public schools and libraries.

County school Superintendent John Carroll said Gaston has uncovered a whole new level of historical detail.

"There are students who are going home and teaching their parents," said Carroll. "I've lived in Marin my whole life. I'm learning everyday walking through this exhibit."

Gaston juggles leading tours for 2nd through 12th graders with her other day job: introducing 4,000 underserved Marin County kids to the arts through Performing Stars of Marin.

She founded the nonprofit 34 years ago to give kids opportunities she was denied growing up Black in the segregated South. In fact, segregation is a recurring theme on her Marin City tour.

It drove the Black migration West during World War II, and workers served the country building ships at the Marinship Corporation.

"The Blacks were like, 'We got a one-way ticket; we're making a new life for ourselves and our families. We're not going back to the Jim Crow south,'" Gaston explained.

But segregation would follow them.

"People had to bring their food in a shoebox because they were not allowed to purchase food on the train," Gason said, holding a shoebox from the 1940s.

But she discovered Black people fought back against housing and work discrimination in Marin City.

Newspaper stories show Black welder Joseph James won a case in the state supreme court barring racially-segregated unions.

"Blacks were standing up for themselves," Gaston said.

It is her hope that the tour and companion book will open people's eyes to new details of community history not just during Black History Month but all year round.

The free traveling exhibit moves to Marin County free libraries after May. The companion history book will be found there as well. Also, curriculum that Dominican University helped develop for elementary through high school students will be available.

Click here to reserve time for a guided tour.

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