A Visit with a Legend, Whose Story Is Their Own

This week’s blog post comes from Jennifer Greene, Associate Director, Community Engagement Program with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

On March 2, the National Park’s Community Shuttle brought the Bayview Network for Elders to Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park. The group of 35 African American women had long wanted to visit the Park and meet Ranger Betty Soskin, the woman whose life story reflected their own. Just like her, they were the daughters and wives whose lives revolved around a shipyard just across the Bay. As it turned out, the visit was as meaningful for Betty as it was for them.

The ladies filed into the visitor center, quietly, smiling, orienting themselves, and there was Betty behind the desk and in uniform. I could feel the mutual familiarity and comfort, the warmth of the connection between the group and Betty, who shared, “It’s so nice to see people who look like me in my park.”

She also shared with us her history, her story, and communicated in prose how her story was emblematic of so many other lives. One Bayview woman shared how she too had moved from Louisiana with her husband and two-year old daughter to work in the shipyards, the same daughter who sat a few rows in front of her. She provided the truth behind the “Greatest Generation,” how it’s more layered and complex, and fraught – how the truth of integration had been whitewashed. As some women noted on the shuttle ride over, “Rosie was a white woman.” Black women had always worked – families had always needed two incomes. She shared how, between her, her mother, and her grandmother, all of whom were alive at one time together, spanned generations that lived through slavery to the challenges we still face today. It’s a story she graciously describes as belonging to us all – nobody more than the women in that room.

It didn’t cross my mind that Betty might need a reminder of her importance, her connection to history, and women of her generation. She wrote in her blog (cbreauxspeaks) of our visit that day,

“The 35 lovely and lively African American women took photos to share with their families, and I felt affirmed and appreciated in my work by their enthusiasm. It was clear that the history being shared belonged to us all, and that we were united — not only as American citizens whose life experiences varied greatly — that we were all survivors of a badly broken social system, but that we were still one people willing to share love beyond any previously limiting boundaries…….. But maybe it’s work that I, as a primary source of that important Era, am best suited to do…. and how brilliant of Life to have set me down in this space and time with a whole busload of loving Sistahs!”

We all need to feel connected, to be reminded of our place in the world. In this case, all one group of women needed was a ride to meet the woman and Ranger who communicates the power and significance of their story to the world.

To follow Betty’s blog go to cbreauxspeaks.
Go to YouTube to see Betty’s 4-minute video on the truth of the “Great Generation” Of Lost Conversations.
To learn more about the Community Shuttle Program, contact Jennifer Greene, or visit the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website.