The National Park Service was only around 6 years old when Betty Reid Soskin was born. Soskin is 100 years old and is retiring as a National Park Service ranger.
Soskin became a permanent NPS employee in 2011, and has been leading programs at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
But those who took her tours got more than the standard history that is displayed in cases around the site. Soskin shared her own life experiences since she lived through the time period she was hired to interpret.
“I am grateful for her lifelong dedication to sharing her story and wish her all the best in retirement. Her efforts remind us that we must seek out and give space for all perspectives so that we can tell a more full and inclusive history of our nation. Congratulations, Betty!” NPS Director Chuck Sams said in a news release announcing Soskin’s retirement.
Soskin grew up in a Cajun-Creole, African American family who moved to Oakland, California after the New Orleans flood of 1927. She graduated from Castlemont High School in Oakland and remembers when ferry boats predated the bridges that cross San Francisco Bay. She was a file clerk for the Boilermaker’s A-36 union during World War II. She and her husband went on to open Reid’s Records, one of the first Black-owned music stores in the area in 1945. The store remained open until 2019.
Soskin also worked on the staff of city council members, county government officials and two members of the state assembly.
Before finding a career with the park service, Soskin participated in meetings with the city leaders and park service representatives for the plan to develop the historical park. She then worked with the federal agency on a grant funded by PG&E to discover stories of African Americans on the World War II home front. That project led to her being hired in a temporary position at the National Park Service at the age of 84.
“Being a primary source in the sharing of that history — my history — and giving shape to a new national park has been exciting and fulfilling,” Soskin said in announcing her retirement. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”
The park will be celebrating Soskin and her retirement on April 16.
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