Marinites outraged over state of Marin City, almost do something about it...
by Jason Walsh
March 17, 2010
From the Sun vaults, March 12-18, 1965
"(Marin City is) the only community in America where whites and
Negroes lived together voluntarily; and that was so, and so wild and
joyous a place I've never seen since."--Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1951
"No sane black man really wants integration! No sane white man really
wants integration!"--Malcolm X, 1965
In 1964, California voters approved Proposition 14, an amendment to
the state Constitution, which effectively made it "the right of any
person...to decline to sell, lease or rent any part of his property
to such persons he chooses."
And, thanks to the two-years this act was the law of the land, the
ghettoization of Marin City was all but complete 45 years ago this week.
It was March 1965. John Muir's evergreens were glistening in the sun,
and the Tiburon mariposas bloomed their golden blossoms atop Ring
Mountain. In between, things were looking far more black and white.
Presenting before the county Board of Supervisors that week, Richard
Hahn, chairman of the Task Force on Housing, detailed a statistical
indictment of housing segregation in Marin on par with the deepest
social-justice crevasses in backwater Mississippi. In a 10-year
period, he reported, Marin's non-white population dropped from 4.46
percent to 3.76 percent, while that same population grew across the
entire Bay Area by 3 percent. And of the non-military and
non-imprisoned "negroes" living in the county, 2,040 out of 2,312
lived in the "remarkable ghetto" of Marin City.
"One can only conclude that if one had intended by some diabolical
premeditated design to isolate or eliminate the negroes from Marin
County...one could not have hoped for a more successful result,"
reported the Greenbrae resident. "A result which could vindicate the
most extravagant boasts of the most extreme segregationists."
Hahn's appearance before the supes was part of an effort by the Marin
Human Rights Commission to "challenge the public and their elected
leaders" to do something to end the near-total housing segregation
that "stains the image of Marin."
Historically, Marin City never "developed" like other neighborhoods
in the county, it was slapped onto the swamplands north of Sausalito.
Created during World War II for Marinship-workforce housing, the
dredge-based infrastructure of the makeshift "city" was built for a
five-year lifespan--cheap and purposefully disposable. But in the
postwar years, as the white workers fled the scene for the fruits of
baby boom America, Marin City's Southern black diaspora--priced out
of the county's postcard pockets--had little choice but to stay put
or leave the county for good. Twenty years later many remained
trapped in the vicious Catch-22 circle of diminishing wages and hope.
The meeting with the county supervisors, according to the Sun's
story, "The Ghetto: An Outrage to Humanity," was called to test the
waters as to whether the board would endorse a legal challenge to the
constitutionality of Prop. 14. The motion received enthusiastic
support from Supervisor Byron Leydecker, but no second was
forthcoming. Supervisor Tom Storer doubted the board should take
action that goes against the will of the electorate; Peter Behr
questioned whether a legislative branch should try to influence the
judicial. Ernest Kettenhofen urged the Human Rights Commission to
join the lawsuit, but not the supes.
The supervisors instead suggested asking county neighborhood
associations and subdividers to voluntarily declare their properties
open to families of all races (as Eichler Homes had done). In the
meantime, they agreed, Marin City needs a community center and a
shopping center. The supes then called for a study into the problem.
And perhaps even an investigation.
"The supervisors are concerned and will, we believe, act further to
remove the Ghetto from Marin," wrote Sun editor and publisher Merrill
Grohman in his congratulatory summation of the meeting. "Citizens as
of this week are more aware of the enormous extent of our county's
Prop. 14 was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1966, a
decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court the following year. More
than four decades later, Marin City's population has risen slightly,
to around 3,000; more than 2,000 of its residents are minorities.
Most of the deleterious Marinship housing was finally razed in the
1970s to make way for apartment and condo developments. The town got
its community center and a chain-store-dominated shopping center in the 1990s.
Thanks to the intense pride and unfathomable resolve of the
community, many things have greatly improved in Marin City. But
poverty--along with its drug and crime companions--remain. Racial
tensions and class resentment are impossible to ignore in Marin City
unless, like many in the county, one chooses to ignore Marin City altogether.
Jack Kerouac's "joyous place" still rests, unsettled and tenuous, on
the dredged divides of Marin.
Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.