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Betty Reid Soskin, one of the few Black women park rangers and the oldest active ranger for the national park service, recently retired at the age of 100. Known as Ranger Betty, she shared stories with park-goers of Black men and women during World War 2.
Ms. Soskin initially led programs in the Richmond, California park called the Rosie The Riveter National Historic Park, about the park’s famous namesake. She also shared her own stories of her experiences as a Black woman during the segregation era.
Born in 1922, Ms. Soskin first helped plan the park before bringing her programs to light, taking a permanent position at the age of 84. She then encouraged park-goers to understand the contributions of Black citizens during World War 2.
Ranger Betty Reid Soskin is a living legend
During World War 2, Ms. Soskin worked as a shipyard clerk for a Boilermakers union, as part of an all-Black auxiliary lodge. At the time, Black people were not allowed to join the boilermakers union at large.
Later, as a park ranger, Betty Reid Soskin shared stories of women like Rosie the Riveter, yet she yearned for opportunities to share her own stories. She eventually began to talk about her own life during tours of the park, sharing her experiences of systemic racism and bigotry.
And she has won awards and accolades for her contributions. She was named Woman of the Year by the California Legislature in 1995 and awarded a silver medallion by the World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Ranger Reid told stories that would’ve been lost to history
Betty Reid Soskin is also the great-granddaughter of an enslaved woman born in 1846 who lived to the age of 102. In an interview with NPR in 2014, Ms. Soskin admitted she has lived “lots and lots” of lives.
She noted that talking about Rosie the Riveter was “a White woman’s story,” which inspired her to share her own tales of her experiences during World War 2. In addition to her park ranger work, she also fought on behalf of civil rights.
In 2015, she also introduced President Barack Obama at a national parks event, a tree-lighting ceremony. She held a picture of her great-grandmother during the event.
Previously, Betty Reid Soskin and her husband, Mr. Melvin Reid, owned and operated a record store in Berkley, California. They sold gospel and soul music until the store closed in 2019.
Meanwhile, Ms. Soskin’s contributions as a park ranger were unique – and necessary. Without her, the stories of Black men and women during World War 2 might have gone untold.
She notes her experience and the stories she told as a park ranger are “the kind of experience that covers years, and decades, and centuries.”