Celebrating the Contributions of Dr. Betty Reid Soskin to the National Park Service
Born in 1921, Dr. Betty Reid Soskin grew up in a Cajun-Creole, African American family in Oakland, California. As a young woman, she worked as a file clerk in a segregated Union hall during World War II and then as one of the country’s first black record store owners. During this time, Dr. Soskin became a true community activist, battling racism and segregation in her community through politics and music. In the early 2000s, she worked with the National Park Service to uncover untold stories of African Americans on the home front during WWII. This connection led to Dr. Soskin accepting a temporary position with the park service at age 84.
When the National Park Service created the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, they sought park rangers who could form unique connections with visitors. Dr. Soskin’s passion for sharing her own story and those of other black women who grew up in marginalized communities during WWII made her a perfect candidate to become a National Park Service Ranger in 2007.
Throughout her career, Dr. Soskin made it her mission to share the stories of people like her – black women workers who made significant contributions to the war effort. She shared stories of black women who worked in the shipyards as welders, electricians, and other trades, often in support of their husbands who were fighting in the war. She stressed the discrimination these women faced on the job, despite their significant contributions to the war effort. In addition to sharing the stories of these workers, Dr. Soskin shared her experiences as a young black woman during the civil rights movement. Her work was instrumental in helping to preserve these stories and in educating visitors about the vital role these communities played in shaping the history of the East Bay and the nation as a whole.
Since 2007, Dr. Soskin has given countless tours, talks, and presentations to help visitors understand how these communities shaped our collective history. She has devoted her career to serving the National Park Service as a park ranger until March 2022, when she retired as the oldest serving ranger in the country.
As we celebrate Black History Month, it is crucial to recognize the contributions of individuals like Dr. Betty Reid Soskin, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the rich cultural history of black communities is preserved and shared with future generations. Through her dedication to her work, Dr. Soskin has left a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire and educate visitors for years to come.