News / USA

Urban National Park Explores 'Rosie the Riveter' Story

The Ford assembly plant building is part of the Rosie the Riveter Urban National Park in Richmond, California. (J. Sluizer/VOA)
The Ford assembly plant building is part of the Rosie the Riveter Urban National Park in Richmond, California. (J. Sluizer/VOA)
TEXT SIZE - +
Jan Sluizer
— America’s scenic National Park System was started in 1872 with the creation of Yellowstone National Park, but natural wonders are not the only protected showcases.

Many U.S. cities are alive with history, and the park service decided in 1981 to create urban national parks. Thirteen years ago, the entire city of Richmond, California - across the bay from San Francisco - became a national park for its unique contribution to the war effort during World War II.

Witness to history

At 92, Betty Soskin is the oldest ranger in the park service. 
 
She was a young African-American woman working in Richmond in 1942, as the city was transformed by the home front war effort.

Industrialist Henry Kaiser, who built the Hoover Dam in 1936, had come to the port city to build ships, first for the British and later for the U.S. Navy. Using the same assembly line techniques Henry Ford pioneered with automobiles, Kaiser revolutionized the shipping industry.
Betty Reid Soskin, 92, who witnessed Richmond's unique history firsthand, is the oldest ranger in the U.S. Park Service. (US Park Service)Betty Reid Soskin, 92, who witnessed Richmond's unique history firsthand, is the oldest ranger in the U.S. Park Service. (US Park Service)
x
Betty Reid Soskin, 92, who witnessed Richmond's unique history firsthand, is the oldest ranger in the U.S. Park Service. (US Park Service)
Betty Reid Soskin, 92, who witnessed Richmond's unique history firsthand, is the oldest ranger in the U.S. Park Service. (US Park Service)
    
“[He] brought in a workforce of black and white southerners because the greatest pool of unemployed people was in the five southern states of Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana," Soskin said. "These people were coming off the Great Depression, were coming off the mechanization of cotton, coming off the dustbowl and here were his [work] hands.”

Unequaled feat
 
Those 98,000 southerners, who came from a society in which the races were strictly segregated, suddenly found themselves in a community where racial discrimination wasn't as stark.
 
However, Soskin recalled, 1942 was not a year for social change; blacks and whites in Richmond remained apart.
 
“Because they were all living under common threat of fascist world domination, the goal could not be racial integration," she said. "The goal had to be that of Henry Kaiser’s, which was to build ships faster than the enemy could sink them."

By the end of the war, Henry Kaiser and his merry crew of sharecroppers had completed 747 ships in three years and eight months, literally launching a ship a day, a feat that has never been equaled since, according to Soskin.
 
Nearly six decades later, when Soskin returned to Richmond after raising her family, the city was fully integrated.

Urban national park
 
She served on the panel that created an urban national park in Richmond, with a history center that would tell the city's wartime story. She said her colleagues wanted the park to encompass the whole city, because buildings used in the home front effort were scattered throughout Richmond.

Soskin said they also wanted the story to be told accurately.
 
“We all seemed to agree that if we could revisit that era honestly as it was lived, that that truth was far more powerful than any of the myths that we made up about it over time,” she said.
 
One of those myths concerns Rosie the Riveter. A fictional icon, she has come to represent the thousands of women who worked in factories and shipyards like Kaiser’s during the war.

Soskin pointed out that although women entering the U.S. work force in large numbers was an important step, black women did not see the same benefits as white women.
 
Telling her story

Eight years ago, Soskin became a park ranger to tell the stories she wanted to tell, and to tell them her way.

She leads bus tours to the Richmond buildings that were used in the wartime effort and talks about the city’s unique history. Some 40,000 tourists from all over the world visit what's now the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Park every year. 
 
"She had in-depth information that I never thought about and I had no idea that was that way,” said one visitor.
 
“The fact that it took so long to open these doors for these other groups that came through and contributed so much, it just really made an impact on me," said another.
 
Soskin said a visit to Rosie the Riveter National Park can not only illuminate the truths of the past, but also inspire young generations to work together to confront the threats of the future.
 
"Rising sea levels, global warming, climactic change.  And they are going to have to come up with an equal mobilization - this time internationally - in order to meet their challenge. And the models for that exist in that period of history between 1941 and 1945. Another reason to revisit a time when we came together for the common good," said Soskin.
 
Soskin pointed out that ordinary Americans, working together in Richmond, changed the course of World War II and of the United States. She calls it a fascinating story that she is privileged to tell.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid