Rapping About The WWII Black Shipyard Workers in Marin

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The Marinovators and MC Jahi wear masks as they pose for a photo.
The Marinovators and MC Jahi wear masks as they pose for a photo. (Winifred MacLeod)

December 7, 2021 marks 80 years since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, an act that would lead to the United States’ formal involvement in WWII.

In support of the war effort, the Bay Area soon became home to a number of small factories and larger shipyards where huge vessels were manufactured, like Sausalito’s Marinship.

As jobs opened up in this industry, hundreds of thousands of African Americans migrated from the South in search of better paying careers and less racism.

What they found in Northern California, along with jobs, was housing discrimination and racist unions. On top of that, their contributions from that period have been largely overlooked in historical documentaries and public memory.

Now, thanks to a group of young people who grew up on that same hallowed ground in Marin County, the tales of some of the Black workers at Marinship are being shared through beats and rhymes.


The Marinovators, a collection of a dozen teenagers working under the guidance of MC Jahi, recently released the album “A Way Out Of No Way,” which highlights the tales of African American laborers at Marinship like Rodessa Battle, Annie Small, and Joseph James. 

These unsung  heroes helped the fight abroad by constructing wartime ships, and championing civil rights on the home front.  Broadway singer turned shipyard welder, Joseph James, notably spearheaded a legal battle against the segregated union at Marniship that denied equal benefits to Black workers. His lawsuit challenged the racial discrimination, and made its way to the California Supreme Court, laying the foundation for other discrimination cases.  And it’s a story that get’s told on the album.

This week we talk to five of the young artists who appear on the project, Khayree Mitchell (13), Dom Austin (14), Sarah Alexis Williams (15), Jaliyah Cook (12) and Rohan Ayyar (18), about what it means to be young culture keepers and historians using music and virtual reality. Plus, we talk about what should be done to publicly honor the workers at Marinship.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.