Personalizing History: Betty Reid Soskin Remembers Port Chicago
February 27, 2010
It’s been a big month for Betty Reid Soskin, who, at 88, is the oldest ranger in the National Park Service and whose extraordinary life story is the focus of the final chapter of my new book.
She’s been featured recently in several TV and newspaper reports about legislation signed recently by President Barack Obama as part of an effort to bring renewed awareness to the worst home-front disaster of World War II, the horrific munitions explosion that killed 320 men— two-thirds of them African American— at Port Chicago, California on July 17, 1944.
The controversial mutiny that ensued after the disaster helped bring an end to the racial segregation of the U.S. military. The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, located on the Suisun Bay, will become a full unit of the National Park System, following approval by Congress. Here’s the raw footage of Betty’s interview with Rodney Speed about the explosion at Port Chicago for a segment of the evening news on WPIX-TV of San Francisco:
For Betty, the tragedy is deeply personal. A dozen of the dead had attended a lemonade party at her house earlier in the day. “Each time I’m at the memorial site and re-positioned in that deceptively tranquil setting,” she wrote recently on her blog, “I can feel the presence of the unseen, and the stories flow and—it’s almost as though we’ve brought the life with us to this monument.”
Since the beginning of the year, Betty has accepted an invitation to receive an honorary doctorate and to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of 2010 from the California College of the Arts. She has also agreed to take a role in a benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s award-winning “Vagina Monologues” in a production to be held in the historic Craneway Pavilion of Ford Point, Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park located in Richmond, California, near San Francisco. The proceeds will go to violence prevention programs in the city.