‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ is just its final chapter


Ms. Soskin’s life has had so many twists and turns that it’s hard to keep them straight: she’s been a suburban mother, anti-war activist, musician, business owner, teacher’s wife, community activist, political assistant, blogger. and, of course, park warden. “I’ve always pushed away the old stuff and made room for the new,” she said.

She was born Betty Charbonnet in Detroit in 1921. She spent her early years in New Orleans, where the Creole and Cajun roots of her close-knit family ran deep. In 1927, after their home was destroyed in the Great Mississippi Flood, the family moved to a racially mixed neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., Where their father and uncles worked as Pullman waiters and porters, and lived in a very united and socially conservative neighborhood. , devoutly Catholic Creole world.

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They were a decade ahead of the war mobilization that would see millions of people flock to California to work in defense-related industries, including some 500,000 African Americans, largely from the South, in what l ‘it has been called the largest voluntary black migration to the west in American history.

For many who have come to the West, the years of war have brought increased opportunities and rising expectations, which would help fuel civil rights and women’s movements. For Ms. Soskin, who had grown up in racially mixed neighborhoods and schools, it also brought her early experiences of open and formal segregation.

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When the war started, she took a job in an Air Force office, where she was surprised to find that she passed for white. She set the record straight and asked if she would still get her promotion. The answer was no. “I resigned from the US government and told them to push it,” she later wrote in his 2018 memoir “Sign My Name for Freedom”.

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