She became a park ranger at 85 to tell her story of segregation. Now 100, she’s the oldest active ranger.

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2021-09-27 19:21Z by Steven

She became a park ranger at 85 to tell her story of segregation. Now 100, she’s the oldest active ranger.

The Washington Post
2021-09-24

Sydney Page


Betty Reid Soskin at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. Soskin is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. (Luther Bailey/NPS photo)

When asked how it feels to be 100 years old, Betty Reid Soskin gave a subtle shrug, smiled and said: “The same way I felt at 99.”

But she’s not just any centenarian: Soskin is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service, and after celebrating her birthday on Sept. 22, she’s still going strong.

Seated in the study of her apartment in Richmond, Calif., dressed proudly in her park ranger uniform, Soskin reflected on her life.

When it comes to sharing her story, Soskin is not shy. As a park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, she spends her days recounting her rich and complicated history, in the hope that her firsthand account will resonate with people, and encourage them to share their own stories.

“I think everyone’s story is very important. There is so much diversity,” Soskin said. “It’s in that mix that the great secret of a democracy exists.”…

Read the entire article here.

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When the war started, she took a job in an Air Force office, where she was surprised to realize she was passing for white. She set the record straight, and asked if she would still get her promotion. The answer was no. “I walked out on the U.S. government and told them to shove it,” she later wrote in her 2018 memoir “Sign My Name to Freedom.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-09-21 03:42Z by Steven

For many who came west, the war years brought increased opportunity, and rising expectations, which would help fuel the civil rights and women’s movements. For Ms. [Betty Reid] Soskin, who had grown up in racially mixed neighborhoods and schools, it also brought her first experiences with overt, formal segregation.

When the war started, she took a job in an Air Force office, where she was surprised to realize she was passing for white. She set the record straight, and asked if she would still get her promotion. The answer was no. “I walked out on the U.S. government and told them to shove it,” she later wrote in her 2018 memoir “Sign My Name to Freedom.”

That same week, her husband Mel, a star college athlete who’d enlisted in the Navy only to be relegated to working as a cook, left the service. “He was going to fight for his country,” she said. “But he found out he could only cook for his country.”

Jennifer Schuessler, “‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter,” The New York Times, September 20, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/20/us/betty-reid-soskin-100.html.

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‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2021-09-21 00:50Z by Steven

‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter

The New York Times
2021-09-20

Jennifer Schuessler


Chanell Stone for The New York Times

Betty Reid Soskin has fought to ensure that American history includes the stories that get overlooked. As she turns 100, few stories have been more remarkable than hers.

The Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park, which sprawls across the former shipyards in Richmond, Calif., on the northeast edge of San Francisco Bay, tells the enormous story of the largest wartime mobilization in American history and the sweeping social changes it sparked.

Visitors can climb aboard an enormous Victory ship, one of more than 700 vessels produced in Richmond — and, in the gift shop, pick up swag emblazoned with the iconic image of the red-kerchiefed Rosie herself, arm flexed up with “We Can Do It!” bravado.

But for many, the park is synonymous with another woman: Betty.

Betty Reid Soskin, who turns 100 on Sept. 22, is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. Over the past decade and a half, she has become both an icon of the service and an unlikely celebrity, drawing overflow crowds to talks and a steady stream of media interviewers eager for the eloquent words of an indomitable 5 feet 3 inch great-grandmother once described by a colleague as “sort of like Bette Davis, Angela Davis and Yoda all rolled into one.”…

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The 97-Year-Old Park Ranger Who Doesn’t Have Time for Foolishness

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2018-11-21 19:34Z by Steven

The 97-Year-Old Park Ranger Who Doesn’t Have Time for Foolishness

Glamour
2011-11-02

Farai Chideya
Photographs by Shaniqwa Jarvis


Photo: Shaniqwa Jarvis 

“History has been written by people who got it wrong. But the people who are always trying to get it right have prevailed,” says Reid Soskin, photographed at Rosie the Riveter Park. “If that were not true, I would still be a slave like my great-grandmother.”

As the oldest career National Park Service ranger, Betty Soskin is unabashed about revealing all of America’s history—and her optimism about our future.

What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering,” Betty Reid Soskin likes to say. So she’s made it her singular purpose to always be in the room.

Today that room is the auditorium at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, where—at 97—she’s the oldest person now serving as a permanent National Park Service ranger. She packs the theater three times a week with talks about the Rosies and the typically white narrative about the women who served the war effort, but interweaves her experience as a young black woman in segregated America.

There are a few things you should know about my friend Betty. Barely five feet three inches tall, she is sylphlike and strong. When she walks, she leans slightly forward, as if facing a headwind, and strides with speed and purpose. Betty never planned to be a ranger. She got the job at the young age of 85, after working as a field representative for her California assemblywoman, Dion Aroner. Aroner asked her to sit in on planning meetings for what would become the park, and Betty quickly saw that, if she didn’t speak up, the park would portray a whitewashed version of history. “There was no conspiracy to leave my history out,” she says. “There was simply no one in that room with any reason to know it.” So she sparked additions to the formal narratives: the 120,000 people of Japanese descent placed in internment camps by the government; the 320 sailors and workers, 202 of them black men, who died in the explosions at nearby Port Chicago. “So many stories,” Betty muses, “all but forgotten.”

Working at an all-black union hall during World War II and then briefly in an all-white branch of the Air Force (they didn’t realize she was black when they hired her), Betty saw stories like these firsthand, becoming, as she puts it, “a primary source” from the time. Tom Leatherman, the park’s superintendent, says Betty motivated organizers to bring more people to the table: “Because of Betty, we made sure we had African American scholars review our films and exhibits, but we also made sure we were looking out for other, often forgotten stories—Japanese American, Latino American, American Indian, and LGBTQ narratives—that were equally important.”…

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National Park Service’s Betty Reid Soskin Publishes Memoir at 96

Posted in Audio, Autobiography, History, Interviews, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2018-02-20 01:12Z by Steven

National Park Service’s Betty Reid Soskin Publishes Memoir at 96

Forum
KQED Radio
San Francisco, California
2018-02-16

Mina Kim, Host

Betty Reid Soskin’s lectures at Richmond’s Rosie the Riveter Museum have garnered her national attention, including a visit with President Obama in 2015. Soskin’s talks reflect on the oft-overlooked African-American wartime experience and how opportunities for black women have changed throughout her lifetime. Now the 96-year-old has written a memoir, “Sign My Name to Freedom,” documenting her history as a political activist, musician and entrepreneur. A longtime resident of the East Bay, Soskin illustrates how the Bay Area laid the groundwork for the national civil rights movement.

Listen to the interview (00:34:56) here. Download the interview here.

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Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2018-02-20 00:00Z by Steven

Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life

Hay House Inc.
2018-02-06
248 pages
6.3 x 1 x 9.1 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9781401954215

Betty Reid Soskin

In Betty Reid Soskin’s 96 years of living, she has been a witness to a grand sweep of American history. When she was born in 1921, the lynching of African-Americans was a national epidemic, blackface minstrel shows were the most popular American form of entertainment, white women had only just won the right to vote, and most African-Americans in the Deep South could not vote at all. From her great-grandmother, who had been enslaved until her mid-20s, Betty heard stories of slavery and the times of terror and struggle for black folk that followed. In her lifetime, Betty has watched the nation begin to confront its race and gender biases when forced to come together in the World War II era; seen our differences nearly break us apart again in the upheavals of the civil rights and Black Power eras; and, finally, lived long enough to witness both the election of an African-American president and the re-emergence of a militant, racist far right.

The child of proud Louisiana Creole parents who refused to bow down to Southern discrimination, Betty was raised in the Bay Area black community before the great westward migration of World War II. After working in the civilian home front effort in the war years, she and her husband, Mel Reid, helped break down racial boundaries by moving into a previously all-white community east of the Oakland hills, where they raised four children while resisting the prejudices against the family that many of her neighbors held.

With Mel, she opened up one of the first Bay Area record stores in Berkeley both owned by African-Americans and dedicated to the distribution of African-American music. Her volunteer work in rehabilitating the community where the record shop began eventually led her to a paid position as a state legislative aide, helping to plan the innovative Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, then to a “second” career as the oldest park ranger in the history of the National Park Service. In between, she used her talents as a singer and songwriter to interpret and chronicle the great American social upheavals that marked the 1960s.

In 2003, Betty displayed a new talent when she created the popular blog CBreaux Speaks, sharing the sometimes fierce, sometimes gently persuasive, but always brightly honest story of her long journey through an American and African-American life. Blending together selections from many of Betty’s hundreds of blog entries with interviews, letters, and speeches, Sign My Name to Freedom invites you along on that journey, through the words and thoughts of a national treasure who has never stopped looking at herself, the nation, or the world with fresh eyes.

Contents

  • Editor’s Note
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1 Creole/Black Cajun New Orleans
  • Chapter 2 Growing Up in Pre-War Bay Area
  • Chapter 3 Marriage and the War Years
  • Chapter 4 Into the Lion’s Den
  • Chapter 5 Breaking Down, Breaking Up
  • Chapter 6 The Movement Years
  • Chapter 7 An Emancipated Woman
  • Chapter 8 Richmond and Rosie and Betty the Ranger
  • Chapter 9 Shining Bright at Twilight: Lessons of a Life Long Lived
  • Epilogue
  • Index
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Author
  • About the Editor
  • Credits
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Ranger’s voice spans East Bay history

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-07-03 18:43Z by Steven

Ranger’s voice spans East Bay history

San Francisco Chronicle
2010-01-31

Lee Hildebrand, Special to The Chronicle

Betty Reid Soskin is a “phenomenal woman,” to borrow the title of a famous poem by Maya Angelou. In her 88 years, Betty has been a shipyard worker, proprietor of a record store, housewife and mother of four, singer and composer of art songs, community activist and, for the past three years, a ranger at Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond.

She’s the oldest active National Park Service ranger in the country and works at the park six hours a day, five days a week, doing community outreach and giving guided tours of the now dormant Kaiser Shipyards where she worked during World War II.

Born in Detroit

She was born Betty Charbonnet in Detroit in 1921 to bilingual Creole parents from New Orleans. She has traced her European ancestry to France in the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest relative of African heritage she’s been able to identify was her great-great-grandmother, a former slave named Celestine who married her former master, Cajun plantation owner Eduouard Breaux. Their daughter, Betty’s great-grandmother Leontine Breaux, was 19 when they married.

“Marriages were relatively common between Cajun slave owners and their slaves,” Soskin explains. “Their marriage papers are dated 1865, at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. His signature is there alongside her ‘X’. Her name is given, in French, as ‘Celestine of no last name.'”…

Read the entire article here.

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Coin given to US’s oldest park ranger by Barack Obama stolen in home invasion

Posted in Articles, Law, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2016-07-03 17:37Z by Steven

Coin given to US’s oldest park ranger by Barack Obama stolen in home invasion

The Guardian
2016-06-30

Sam Levin


Ranger Betty Soskin holds a photo of herself has a young woman.
Photograph: Alamy

The White House is sending a replacement coin to 94-year-old Betty Soskin, who says she hopes she can recover the original from violent home intruder

The oldest park ranger in the US suffered a violent home invasion in which the suspect stole a commemorative coin Barack Obama gave to the 94-year-old woman, according to California police.

Park officials said on Thursday that the White House is sending a replacement coin to Betty Soskin, who works at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front national historic park in northern California. But the ranger said she hopes she can recover the original…

…Soskin is well-known locally and within the park service for her talks and tours at the Rosie the Riveter park where she often tells personal stories about her life as a young black woman working at the Richmond shipyards during the second world war.

Meeting the president and receiving the coin was a powerful experience for Soskin, Leatherman said. At the time, she brought with her a picture of her grandmother, who was born into slavery…

Read the entire entire article here.

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