Rachel Benner, sophmore at Fordham University, interviewed longtime activist Sonia Goldstein in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org
Last week, I had the privilege of talking with Sonia Goldstein and hearing her brilliant life story. Sonia is a lifelong activist who has dedicated her time to righting social issues. She was raised in Washington, D.C., by her parents, both Russian immigrants. Growing up during World War II, she became a global thinker at a young age. It was her parents’ devotion to caring for others that first sparked her passion for activism.
As a young adult and married to a WWII veteran, Sonia’s first social fight was to desegregate D.C. In the late 1940s, she marched to desegregate her local pool where only white people were allowed. During the demonstration, people built a burning cross in front of her. Despite this threat—and an encounter with the police—her community was able to secure everyone’s access to the pool. (You can read more about Sonia’s police encounter during an integrated party here.)
One of the most striking things Sonia shared was that she has attended hundreds of marches and protests. This is where she felt most “full,” being surrounded by like-minded people to remind her that she was not alone. Just as her parents did when she was a child, Sonia and her husband passed their activist spirits to their children. Feeling as though they did not understand what real life was like, she took her two oldest children to the 1968 March on Washington where they heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. A defining moment for Sonia was bringing her kids to the Washington Monument and telling them, “Look in all directions; everybody here agrees with us. We all think alike.”
Sonia practiced what she preached, spending her time helping others. Living in a Bronx co-op, she held youth groups and taught young people their rights. She assisted with local elections in New York doing whatever jobs were necessary. When she moved to Long Island in 1953, she helped build schools and worked with children who were handicapped. Her most significant impact in the community was creating the Planview Cooperative Nursery School in 1956, which still exists today. They hired teachers and worked to create a positive environment for children. When asked who helped start it, she responded, “our gang, our people, our friends.”
Hearing Sonia’s stories, it is evident how highly she values community and family: “We took care of each other, in our lives as well as the work we did.” To her, we all have a duty to look after one another.
I cannot overstate how inspiring it was to hear Sonia’s thoughts on the United State’s current situation. Amidst a country tackling political differences, civil rights issues, and a global pandemic, Sonia maintains great hope for the next generation. As a woman who has lived through 92 years of crucial history, she understands that it is a struggle to fight for social justice, but she thinks we are making significant progress. With vigilance and collective support, she believes activists can continue fighting for what is right, just as she has done all her life.
Sonia’s closing words were, “Now is the time! This is the time.”