The deep history of black presence and achievement is getting a long overdue spotlight via a pair of Mill Valley gems, as Marin City author and historian Felecia Gaston has teamed up with Mill Valley Public Library Archivists Natalie Snoyman and Ted Mann to create a new exhibit titled “Breaking Through: Black History at Tam High, 1910 to the Present.”

The exhibit, which runs through April, is free and open to the public at the Mill Valley Public Library at 375 Throckmorton Ave.

“This is about people who left Tam and went on to do great things,” Gaston told the IJ. “We also wanted to address race relations: I’ve been reading recently that we’ve got these issues going on at Tam,” she said, referring to an incident last year involving a student video that included a racial slur. “Well, it was also going on in the 1960s — they brought in Project Breakthrough to add Black staff and tutors as a support system.”

By focusing on the Black graduates of Tam High, which has a predominantly white student population, the curators say they are using a case study that reflects a much larger historic timeline for the country as a whole.

Snoyman told the IJ the history line runs from “the birth of Marin City in the 1940s through the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement and the response to the 2020 murder of George Floyd.”

“Tam High is such a bridge between Mill Valley and Marin City,” Snoyman said. “It’s where a lot of these students meet — sometimes for the first time.”

The exhibit includes William L. Patterson, who graduated in 1911 and became a pioneering civil rights leader, as highlighted by the Mill Valley Historical Society in 2021.  The exhibit also focuses on the creation of Marin City as the then-best integrated shipyard on the West Coast, and the history of redlining and racial covenants in Marin, among others.

The exhibit also includes Marin City families whose children attended Tam High. Some, such as civic leader Terrie Harris-Green, a 1967 graduate, and her son, Play Marin founder Paul Austin, a 1994 graduate, are still active in the effort to expand equity and diversity in Marin.

“What the exhibition documents is both a Marin County story, with specifically local contours, and, at the same time, very much a larger American story,” Mann said in an email. “The experience of the Black community in Southern Marin since the 1940s is, in many ways, a microcosm of what was taking place at the national level.”

“This exhibit will provide a platform and forum for multiple generations of Tam High’s Black community — as well as the larger Marin community — to learn, connect and help shape our collective future,” Snoyman said.


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