In a society where integral parts of American history have been rewritten, omitted and enshrouded, preservationists have dedicated their careers to protecting and amplifying powerful stories from the past. Amongst them is park ranger Betty Reid Soskin who retired from the National Park Service on Thursday, CBS News reported.
At 100-years-old, Soskin—who celebrated her centennial birthday last September—was the NPS’ oldest active ranger. The Detroit native used her work at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park to illuminate the unsung stories of Black WWII veterans. Soskin’s knowledge was derived from lived experiences. During World War II, she served as a shipyard clerk for an all-Black auxiliary lodge; witnessing first-hand how racism and discrimination permeated the military.
Beyond her contributions during WWII, she charted a trailblazing path in the realm of business. Soskin—who has resided in the Bay Area ever since her family moved to Oakland during the Great Migration—founded one of the first Black-owned music stores in that region of California. The record shop, dubbed Reid’s Records, opened its doors in 1945 and had a 74-year run. Amid the Black Arts Movement in the 60s, Soskin—who was passionate about the arts—created music and poetry that captured the social and political unrest of that era. She often marched with and contributed to fundraisers for the Black Panther Party.
Joining the National Park Service was just another form of Soskin lending her voice to change. After attending a meeting about the creation of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in 2000, she knew it was imperative that stories centered on Black experiences during that period were included. In 2004, she became a National Park Service ranger and has been ensuring important narratives that are interwoven into the fabric of the nation’s history are not forgotten.
Soskin says she discovered a true sense of purpose during her time as a park ranger. “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,” she shared in a statement, according to the news outlet. “It has proven to bring meaning to my final years.”
Naomi Torres, who serves as the acting superintendent of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, added Soskin has “used stories of her life on the Home Front, drawing meaning from those experiences in ways that make that history truly impactful for those of us living today.” The pioneering park ranger’s retirement will be celebrated on April 16.
News about her retirement comes after it was announced that the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion—the U.S. Army’s only all-Black women unit to serve during WWII—will be bestowed with a Congressional Gold Medal.