Betty Reid Soskin Receives Fannie Lou Hamer Award

By Tanya Dennis Betty Reid Soskin, a former aide to state assembly members and a supporter of the “Rosie the Riveter” Historical Park in Richmond, will be honored with the Fannie Lou Hamer Award at UC Berkeley’s African American student’s graduation ceremony May 19 at Zellerbach Hall. Soskin, who became a National Park Ranger at age 85, is being recognized by the Black Studies Department for her informative Black History Month presentations and her wide knowledge about life on the Home Front during World War II. “This one feels good – having been found worthy of this award is such an honor,” said Soskin. Hamer was a leader of Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party,  fighting for inclusion in the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer’s daring move made possible Shirley Chisholm’s historic run for the presidency in 1972 as the first woman to make the attempt, “with yours truly seated with the California delegation in Miami’s huge Convention Hall,” Soskin said. Over the years, she worked as a field representative for state Assemblymembers Dion Aroner and Loni Hancock. She also helped transform a two-block area around her husband’s business, Reid’s records on Sacramento Street in Berkeley, which she described as “a veritable wasteland of drugs and prostitution.” She realized the only way to save her family’s business was to help change the neighborhood.  The result was a 41-unit, low-income housing complex that cost $8.5 million and took seven years to complete. The California Legislature named Soskin “Woman of the Year” in 1995 for her effort in transforming Sacramento Street. She also received a “Women Builders of Communities and Dreams” award in 2006 from the National Women’s History Project. Soskin is currently involved in developing the Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Homefront National Historical Park in Richmond.  She has produced a DVD, “Lost Conversations,” which tells the story of African-Americans and the war effort. Betty Reid Soskin’s blog can be found at http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/.
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