Joseph James is a common name. If you Google it, you’ll have to comb through nearly five pages of results before stumbling across the story of the Black actor and shipyard worker who exposed the discriminatory practices of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers of America to the California Supreme Court in 1944.
This weekend, Oakland artist and writer Jahi helps amplify that James’ story with The Spirit of Joseph James, a play that details the formative moments of the actor-activist’s adolescence, his fight against racist union practices during World War II and his later efforts in striving for a more just world.
The production is part of Marin City 80, a yearlong celebration of the Black art, culture and history that have shaped Marin City since its founding in 1942. James, like several other Black folks who migrated to the area during this period, “helped to establish the Black presence in the Bay Area,” says Jahi. His tale is one of many “lost stories” that are often forgotten or overlooked, says the artist, when peering deeper into the history of Black communities living in the Bay Area.
The play features an all-Black cast, with actors from Marin City and Oakland, including Khari Hayes and Adimu Madyun. The performers have been pivotal in bringing Jahi’s vision to life: he credits them with transforming his words into vibrant and dynamic motion.
“My hope is people walk away feeling informed, inspired and attached to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality [that took place] 80 years ago,” says Jahi. For him, the play is an “opportunity to shine light and show how Black communities can be celebrated, remembered and preserved.”