Betty Reid Soskin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Betty Reid Soskin
Soskin in 2014
Betty Charbonnet

(1921-09-22) September 22, 1921 (age 102)
EducationCastlemont High School
OccupationNational Park Service ranger
EmployerNational Park Service
  • Melvin Reid
    (m. 1943; div. 1972)
  • William Soskin
    (m. 1978; died 1988)

Betty Reid Soskin (née Charbonnet; born September 22, 1921) is an American retired ranger with the National Park Service, previously assigned to the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California.[1][2] Until her retirement on March 31, 2022, at the age of 100, she was the oldest National Park Ranger serving the United States.[3]

Early life[edit]

Betty Charbonnet was born in 1921 in Detroit to Dorson Louis Charbonnet and Lottie Breaux Allen, both Catholics and natives of Louisiana. Her father came from a Creole background, and her mother from a Cajun background. Her great-grandmother had been born into slavery in 1846. She spent her early childhood living in New Orleans, until a hurricane and flood destroyed her family's home and business in 1927, when her family then relocated to Oakland, California.[4]

Soskin graduated from Castlemont High School in Oakland.[5]

During World War II she worked as a file clerk for Boilermakers Union A-36, an all-black union auxiliary.[4] Her main job was filing change of address cards for the workers, who moved frequently.[6]

In June 1945, she and her then husband, Mel Reid, founded Reid's Records in Berkeley, California, a small black-owned business specializing in Gospel music. They moved to Walnut Creek, California in the 1950s, where their children attended better public schools and an alternative private elementary and middle school called Pinel. The family encountered considerable racism, and she and her husband were subject to death threats after they built a home in the white suburb.[4]


She converted to Unitarianism and became active in the Mount Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church and the Black Caucus of the Unitarian Universalist Association,[7] and in the 1960s became a well-known songwriter in the Civil Rights Movement.[4]

Reid's Records in Berkeley, California, 2014

She was divorced from Mel Reid in 1972, and subsequently married William Soskin, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1978, after Mel Reid's health and finances had declined, she took over management of the music store, which led to her becoming active in area civic matters and a prominent community activist.[8] Reid's Records closed on October 19, 2019.[9]

She later served as a field representative for California State Assemblywomen Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock, and in those positions became actively involved in the early planning stages and development of a park to memorialize the role of women on the Home Front during World War II. Those efforts came to fruition when Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was established in 2000, to provide a site where future generations could remember the contributions women made to the war effort.

The Rosie Memorial in Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Richmond, California

Reflecting on her own role in planning for the park's creation, and on how she brought her personal recollections of the conditions for African American women working in that still segregated environment to bear on the planning efforts, she has said that, often, she "was the only person in the room who had any reason to remember that … what gets remembered is a function of who's in the room doing the remembering."[4]

In 2003, she left her state job and became a consultant at the park she helped create before becoming a park ranger with the National Park Service in 2007 at the age of 85.[10]

Soskin's duties included conducting park tours and serving as an interpreter, explaining the park's purpose, history, various sites, and museum collections to park visitors. She has been celebrated as "a tireless voice for making sure the African-American wartime experience – both the positive steps toward integration and the presence of discrimination – has a prominent place in the Park's history."[11]

Soskin said in 2015, at the age of 93: "Wish I'd had [the] confidence when the young Betty needed it to navigate through the hazards of everyday life on the planet. But maybe I'm better able to benefit from having it now – when I have the maturity to value it and the audacity to wield it for those things held dear."[12]

She released her memoir, Sign My Name to Freedom, in February 2018. A feature-length documentary about Soskin's involvement with music, also titled Sign My Name to Freedom, began filming in 2016.[13]

Soskin suffered a stroke while working at the park in September 2019 and returned to work in a limited, informal capacity in January 2020.[14][15][16]

In celebration of her 100th birthday, the West Contra Costa Unified School District renamed Juan Crespi Middle School to Betty Reid Soskin Middle School.[17][18]

On March 31, 2022, Soskin retired from the National Park Service; she was the oldest serving park ranger at the time.[19]


Reid Soskin receiving a congressional recognition from Mark DeSaulnier in 2020.


  1. ^ Zinko, Carolyne (September 26, 2007). "WWII meant opportunity for many women, oppression for others". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  2. ^ Hildebrand, Lee (January 31, 2010). "Ranger's voice spans East Bay history". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Jones, Carolyn (October 16, 2013). "Federal shutdown puts Betty Reid Soskin on hold". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Oldest National Park Ranger Shares 'What Gets Remembered'," NPR Wisdom Watch, May 15, 2014.[1]
  5. ^ a b "Betty Reid Soskin, Groundbreaking Park Ranger, to Have East Bay Middle School Renamed in Her Honor". KQED. June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Pope, John (November 19, 2016) [May 29, 2016]. "World War II Museum to honor park ranger, 94, for telling the truth about racism". Archived from the original on October 19, 2018.
  7. ^ "Betty Reid Soskin". Williams College. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  8. ^ Frankel, Bruce (2010). What Should I Do With the Rest of My Life?: True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-101-18596-4.
  9. ^ Jones, Kevin L. (February 5, 2019). "Reid's Records, California's oldest record shop, to close in the fall". Berkeleyside. Berkeley, California. Retrieved March 31, 2022. One of Berkeley's few remaining black-owned businesses lasted through decades of ups and downs and outlived megastore competitors, but it couldn't beat the impact of technology and gentrification.
  10. ^ "Betty Soskin A Living Monument To WWII History". The Washington Post. June 12, 2015.
  11. ^ Geluardi, John (July 30, 2007). "Park celebrates women's war effort: 'Rosie the Riveter' symbol of those who transcended traditional roles". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved April 26, 2014.
  12. ^ Personal blog, May 26, 2015.
  13. ^ Sobotta, Sharon K. (January 11, 2023). "Sign My Name to Freedom". East Bay Express. Retrieved January 31, 2024.
  14. ^ Sanchez, Tatiana (September 22, 2019). "Betty Reid Soskin, 98-year-old park ranger, recovering from stroke". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  15. ^ Tyska, Jane (January 16, 2020). "Betty Reid Soskin back at work at Rosie the Riveter park after stroke". East Bay Times.
  16. ^ Reneau, Annie (March 3, 2020). "98-yr-old Betty Reid Soskin is America's oldest park ranger and an inspiration for us all". Upworthy. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  17. ^ Page, Sydney (September 24, 2021). "She became a park ranger at 85 to tell her story of segregation. Now 100, she's the oldest active ranger". The Washington Post.
  18. ^ "East Bay District Names School After Betty Reid Soskin on Her 100th Birthday". September 22, 2021.
  19. ^ "100 year-old National park Service Ranger Betty Reid Soskin retires after remarkable career" (Press release). National Park Service. March 31, 2022.
  20. ^ "Oldest park ranger gets new coin after home robbery". KCRA. July 18, 2016.
  21. ^ "Recognizing Ms. Betty Reid Soskin". Congressional Record. 162 (107): 49. July 5, 2016.
  22. ^ "Awards and Recognition". National Parks Conservation Association.
  23. ^ "Recognizing Betty Reid Soskin". Congressional Record. 165 (167): 10. October 22, 2019.
  24. ^ DeSaulnier, Mark (February 8, 2020). "Recognizing Betty Reid Soskin".
  25. ^ LaBerge, Beth; Marnette Federis (September 22, 2021). "East Bay Middle School Renamed for Pioneering Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin — on Her 100th Birthday". KQED.


External links[edit]