Tuesday, September 28, 2021

#RangerBetty100

 If you have only one hour to learn about the history of the United States, I recommend that you spend it with Betty Reid Soskin, National Park Service Ranger. 

I learned about Ranger Betty as many other people did, as the entire National Park Service -- which recently celebrated its own centennial -- celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion came to my attention in several different ways over a couple of days. The most fun, of course, was the item above from the impish creatives at NPS Lego Vignettes, from whom I literally learn something new every day.

She is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in California. Her personal history is so deeply entwined in the mission and purposes of the park that they have created an entire web page for this particular ranger. The Betty Reid Soskin page includes a schedule of the presentations she gives on site, a biography focused on her relationship to the park and most importantly, that one-hour video I reference in the opening lines above. 

She is shown sitting as I've seen many other rangers do, on a kitchen stool at the front of a small theater full of visitors. She introduces the park and the park's main documentary video. The hour spent with her includes about 20 minutes with that professionally produced film. It begins, however, with her presenting both a general introduction to the concept of urban national parks and her own connection to this one. After the film is when the real learning happens; in a series of firm but gentle steps, she guides listeners from a superficial understanding of what the home front was all about to a deeper understanding of how that reality was shaped by race and how that might be relevant today.

Spoiler alert: a key turning point in the life of Ranger Betty Soskin was the evacuation of her family from a flood that ravaged much of Louisiana. Most of us were not aware of it until after Katrina in 2005, though Randy Newman ... and later Aaron Neville ... told us all about it in Louisiana 1927, first released in 1974.

Lagniappe

If you have more time to devote to learning about the Great Migration that is a big part of Ranger Betty Soskin's story, I highly recommend Isabelle Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. She focuses on the stories of three families in order to provide deep glimpses into the vast and complicated story in which millions of Americans moved over a period of half a century. For a link to the book and my own thoughts on it, please see my Warmth of Other Suns review on Goodreads.

I found the Ranger Betty video while I was looking for material about this book; I found it a bit after the fact. Wilkerson was featured on the TED Radio Hour, which includes a conversation with her and a link to her TED Talk.

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