At 92, Betty Reid Soskin is the oldest National Park Ranger serving today, as an interpretive ranger leading tours at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.
“What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering,” Betty says. Though she lived and worked through the Rosie the Riveter era, “that really is a white woman’s story.” Black women have worked outside the home since slavery, as Betty knows personally–her great-grandmother was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. As the only person of color on the park’s planning committee, Betty, who was a political activist and singer/songwriter during the civil rights movement, ensured that stories like her own were included in the newly-revamped historical park.
“I was 27 when my slave ancestor died. All of that American history, that Great American narrative, from slavery through Reconstruction through Plessy v. Ferguson and the First World War and Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart and the Great Depression and Martin Luther King and Malcom X and the assassination of the Kennedys and Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin and the moon landing and the Mars program, [that it] all happened within the lifetime of three women who were adults together is mind-boggling….I bring that history to this park.”
To hear more from Betty herself–and there’s a reason she works as a tour guide; she’s an amazing speaker!–tune in to her interview over at NPR.