Nation’s Oldest Active Park Ranger Retires At 100
Justin Sullivan

America’s oldest active park ranger is hanging up her campaign hat for good at 100 years old, AP reported.

Last week, the National Park Service announced Betty Reid Soskin retired after more than 15 years at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. 

Soskin led tours at the park and museum honoring the women who worked in factories during wartime, while using her own experience as a Black woman during the conflict.

A Park Service statement said Soskin “spent her last day providing an interpretive program to the public and visiting with coworkers.”

Soskin’s century on Earth is nothing short of remarkable.

Born Betty Charbonnet in Detroit, Michigan on September 22, 1921, Soskin grew up amongst her family’s Creole community in New Orleans between 1924 and 1927, where she survived the “Great Mississippi Flood” of 1927. Following the flood, Soskin’s family relocated to Oakland, during the “Great Migration.” She has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since, according to a Park Service biography.

In 1942, she worked for the U.S. Air Force, but quit after learning that “she was employed only because her superiors believed she was white.”

Betty Reid Soskin, a park ranger with the National Park Service, shows the replacement coin she received from Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, at the 72nd annual anniversary of the Port Chicago explosion at the former Naval Weapons Station in Condord, Calif., on Sunday July 17, 2016. Siskin was given a replacement medal from President Obama at the event after she was robbed and beaten at her home on June 27. The 1944 explosion of a munitions ship killed over 300 people, most of them African American enlisted men who were assigned the hazardous job of unloading explosives. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)

Three years later, Soskin and her husband, Mel Reid, founded one of the first Black-owned record stores in the Bay Area, Reid’s Records in Berkeley. Reid’s Records started with the couple selling records through a garage door window they knocked out of their duplex. Soskin told Datebook the store was born out of Berkeley’s growing postwar African American community need to buy “race records.” None of the white-owned record shops in the area would sell African American music.

Despite humble beginnings, Reid Records transformed into a Bay Area institution run by her children for 75 years, until its closing in 2019.

Soskin is also an accomplished songwriter. In 1964, Soskin wrote “Your Hand In Mine,” about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer’s fight for the Mississippi Freedom Party.

An activist as well, Soskin also marched with and fundraised for the Black Panther Party in the 1960s.

In 1995, she was named California Woman of the Year.

President Obama presented Soskin with a presidential commemorative coin after she lit the National Christmas tree at the White House.

A year later, at 94, Soskin survived a brutal attack when her home was burglarized. She was awakened by a robber who punched her repeatedly in the face, dragged her out of her bedroom and beat her before taking the coin and other items. 

Just a few weeks after recovery, Soskin returned to work.