SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond proudly recognized Betty Reid Soskin, a pioneering Bay Area civil rights activist and the oldest living National Park Ranger serving in the United States, as an Ambassador to California Education on her 100th birthday.
Soskin was honored Wednesday with the distinction during a renaming ceremony of the formerly named Crespi Middle School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District that now bears her name, Betty Reid Soskin Middle School. Soskin joins distinguished Education Ambassadors Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dolores Huerta, and Dr. Karen Korematsu for demonstrating outstanding dedication and contributions to support the education of California’s students.
“We all have personal experience with overcoming adversity, and I am grateful to have role models like Betty Reid Soskin to inspire us along the way,” Thurmond said. “She lived through times that many of us have only read about and then tried to comprehend. She is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom and a treasure to this community. Ms. Soskin is living proof that your journey, no matter how challenging it has been so far, is just beginning. The future holds incredible opportunities. Always remember that.”
An East Bay-based civil rights activist, musician, pioneering businesswoman, and park ranger at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park, Soskin has also become a leading spokesperson for the diverse experiences of domestic war-effort workers during World War II.
Born Betty Charbonnet in Detroit, Michigan, Soskin’s family relocated to Oakland in 1927, joining thousands of Black families who moved west during what came to be called the Great Migration. In 1945, she founded Reid’s Records in Berkeley, one of the first Black-owned record stores in the Bay Area. As a lifelong musician and accomplished songwriter, Soskin penned “Your Hand in Mine” in 1964 after being inspired by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. During the 1960s, Soskin marched with and fundraised for the Black Panthers.
Soskin officially joined the National Park Service as a ranger in 2004 after attending a presentation on the development of Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, where she continues to conduct park tours and serves as an interpreter, explaining the park’s purpose, history, various sites, and museum collections to park visitors. She was presented with a presidential commemorative coin by President Barack Obama at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in 2015 as well as being honored with an entry into the Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress.
The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education’s website.