Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin is the oldest park ranger with National Park Service and the author of Sign My Name to Freedom: A Memoir of a Pioneering Life. Her remarkable life spans nearly ten decades and has included being an author, composer and singer, social and political activist, entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, historian, blogger, and public speaker. Betty was instrumental in the establishment of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. She was later hired to work at the Rosie the Riveter Park, where she works today.
Born into a Cajun/Creole African-American family, she spent her earliest years in New Orleans in the era of lynchings and Jim Crow segregation. Following the historic floods that devastated the City of New Orleans in 1927, her family later settled in Oakland, California. As a file clerk in an all-Black segregated union hall during World War II, she was witness to the flood-tide of Black and white workers who poured into the Bay area wartime shipyards, a mass migration that changed the face and social fabric of California and helped usher in the civil rights era.
Along with her first husband, Mel, Betty helped integrate the East Bay suburbs by moving their family into a previously white neighborhood. Betty and Mel also founded one of the first Black-owned record shop businesses in California. After working with elected officials to rehabilitate the block on which the record shop was located, Betty served on the staff of a Berkeley City Councilmember and then as field representative to two members of the California State Assembly.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, she was active in the Bay Area’s civil rights and Black Power movements, as well as the movement to end the Vietnam War.
In 1995 Betty was named a “Woman of the Year” by the California State Legislature. In 2005 she was named one of the nation’s ten outstanding women, “Builders of communities and dreams” by the National Women’s History Project.
She is a highly sought-after public speaker and her blog, CBreaux Speaks, has thousands of followers. Betty lives in Richmond, California.