Introducing Betty Reid Soskin
My friend Tom invited me to meet a friend of his. “She’s 92 and a Park Ranger,” Tom said. I had stereotypical thoughts: 92! Must be some kind of honorary job. But the woman who opened the door was small, vivacious, with a ballerina’s grace and flexibility. Betty’s daughter? No, this was Betty, who confessed to no longer being the Parks Department’s oldest employee: they had recently hired a man 98.
You can learn a little about Betty and about the Rosie the Riveter National Park she is helping create on this video:
Betty is from two old New Orleans Creole families, but was born in Detroit, which brings up another of those stories of race and flight Isabel Wilkerson told so well in The Warmth of Other Suns.
Betty’s grandfather was a famed New Orleans artisan. Her father worked with him. One day, a white man came into the shop and called Betty’s grandfather by his first name, Louie. Betty’s father said, “Do you know who you’re talking to?” and called the offender by his first name.
In those days, in whites’ eyes, people of color possessed only first names and were allowed to address whites only by a last name preceded by a title. Betty’s father had to be hustled out of town to avoid a lynching, sent to safety in Detroit, where Betty and her sister were born.
Look at these photographs and decide who the class acts were in that scenario.