At the age of 93, Betty Reid Soskin is America’s oldest park ranger. Soskin, who works at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California, started her career with the National Parks Service at the age of 85. The great-granddaughter of a slave and a file clerk in a Jim Crow union hall during World War II, Soskin moved to Oakland, California in 1927 from New Orleans, after a hurricane flood forced her to flee the area. She was ” target=”_blank”>recently highlighted by the U.S. Department of the Interior as part of Women’s History Month.
Soskin says she rarely appears in public without her uniform, and here’s why,
Yes, I do wear my uniform at all times; because when I’m on the streets or on an escalator or elevator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had. That’s important. The pride is evident in their eyes, and the opportunities get announced very subtly to those who’ve lived outside the circle of full acceptance.
Soskin conducts a tour series at the park, “Untold Stories and Lost Conversations,” which is wildly popular and often completely booked as much as two months in advance. Soskin credits her unique perspective as a result of all the history that she has lived through for her popularity.
I imagine that my tours are popular because — though I am not a trained historian — my tours are necessarily a way to share my oral history with the public. I tell the story of the African American workers. Even though it is personal, since I was not a part of the migrant labor force, there is enough in common with other people of color to serve as a bridge between races.
Soskin, who works at the park 5 days a week, was also a keynote speaker at a Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony at the park. In 2010, she received an honorary doctorate from from California College of the Arts. Soskin appeared on a TODAY show segment, earlier this week.