Dr. Olivia Hooker, one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, passed away on Nov. 21 at age 103.
Dr. Hooker, an accomplished professor and psychologist, was also the first Black woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945.
She was a mere 6-years-old when one of the worst race riots in U.S. history broke out and demolished much of a Tulsa neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” She hid under a table as torch-carrying white terrorists destroyed her family’s home. She shared that experience with NPR radio earlier this year.
Dr. Hooker recalled hearing the mob use an ax to destroy her sister’s piano. For a child, she said, “It was horrifying trying to keep quiet.”
“The most shocking was seeing people you’d never done anything to irritate would just, took it upon themselves to destroy your property because they didn’t want you to have those things,” said Hooker detailing the horrific experience explicitly.
That moment in her life seemed to fuel her path to greatness. Her family left the town and during World War II, she became the first African-American woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard as a member of the Semper Paratus program, or SPAR, where she prepared discharges for guardsmen returning from the war and rejoining civilian life.
Admiral Karl Schulz of US Coast Guard honored Dr. Hooker for her service in a heartfelt tweet:
“She was a national treasure, she was a very special lady,” Coast Guard spokesman Barry Lane said.
She went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester, and later worked as a professor Fordham University in New York.
Dr. Hooker served as a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, now called the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, which has sought reparations for those impacted by the violence and their survivors.