Betty Soskin and I have been in touch, and she pointed me to this video about her life and work as an outreach specialist and interpreter at Rosie the Riveter WWII/ Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, CA. Her long history in the area makes her an invaluable asset, not least because, as she puts it, “I’m at an age where I know how all the stories turned out.”
Soskin could be the poster child for more causes if she were willing to toe the line — someone else’s line, that is. A few years ago she fielded a call from an Oprah staffer for a possible show about hip older people. (Soskin is an active blogger.) The staffer wanted to know how the internet had changed Soskin’s life, and didn’t appreciate her answer: “It hasn’t. It was just the next way to grow into whatever future I have.” So much for the Oprah debut.
Soskin ran into a similar problem in Washington DC during President Obama’s inauguration, where the National Park Service had arranged for some interviews. In her words, “A couple of days before we were to leave, a call came from the Washington Bureau of a major news network. The interviewer held me on the phone for about 30 minutes trying to get me to tell her about my WWII experience as a ‘Rosie.’ ‘Which ships did you work on?’ ‘How did you feel about your role as a woman in the work force for the first time?’ I explained that I not only never saw a ship, but that I worked in a little Jim Crow union auxiliary because this was before unions had integrated racially. I could hear the caller begin to lose interest. I finally said; ‘Rosie’s is a great story, but it isn’t mine. That is a white woman’s story. The true story is far much more interesting than the myths we’ve built around the WWII home front reality.”
I’ll vouch for that. Yet NBC killed the interview on the grounds that “there was nothing to work with.” “I’m just too old and too solid in my shoes to be pulled into being anyone but myself,” added Soskin in her email. “The candor has begun to take hold, and the game-playing seems to be over now.”