Betty is 95 years young! She has a quiet grace and strength about her, multiple lives lived, a progressive grasp of world events, and a beautiful singing voice. She was born in 1921 in Detroit and spent her early years in Louisiana. Her family moved to Oakland California after a huge flood of New Orleans in 1927. After coming to California she found that most Black women had only a few options for work. In her talks she makes a point to mention getting a job doing clerical work was a step up in those times. In the 40s her and her first husband Mel Reid owned a Gospel record label in Berkeley, California. She later on remarried to William Soskin, had several children, and outlived two husbands. She lived as a house wife in Walnut Creek, wrote songs, participated in civil rights work, and at the age of 85 starting working as a park ranger. She is the oldest working park ranger today. She has spoken at events about her life and history all across the US, and has been awarded the ACLU, California state legislature, and by former president Barack Obama. One of the most instrumental things she did as a park ranger was consult during the creation of a urban national park. She explains that because finding decent paying work was so difficult for Black families then and in many cases now; that people of color often did not have the leisure time or disposable income to access the larger state parks (and there are many) so they decided to bring them to inner cities like Richmond. I took my son and his mother to the Rosie The Riveter museum in Richmond where Betty works. Betty gave the planners some context as to which areas in Richmond that would be included in the park were sites of racial segregation and struggle for African Americans, a detail she remembers by saying “What gets remembered is determined by who is in the room doing the remembering. There was no grand conspiracy to leave my history out. There simply was nobody in that room who had any reason to know that”. If you get the chance, listen to her speak or read her blog.
You can purchase this $40 (includes shipping) Sidenote: recently, she was attacked/robbed in her home (she’s ok). For folks interested in buying this, I will donate a portion of this to her to help replace some of what was stolen from her home. Email me at email@example.com
sources: National Park Service, Wikipedia, http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/