(Updated 11-27-18) Olivia J. Hooker, of Greenburgh, the first African-American woman to have entered the U.S. Coast Guard, which she did in Feb. 1945, died peacefully in her home on Nov. 21. She was 103.
Dr. Hooker was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on Feb.12, 1915. During the infamous Tulsa race riots of 1921, Ku Klux Klan members ransacked her home while she hid under a table with her three siblings. She was only six years old at the time. Hooker later was a founder of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission in hopes of demanding reparations for the riot’s survivors.
In 2003, she was among survivors of the riot to file an unsuccessful federal lawsuit seeking reparations. She was the last known survivor of the riots.
After the riots, Dr. Hooker’s family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in 1937 from The Ohio State University. While at OSU, she joined the Delta Sigma Theta sorority where she advocated for African-American women to be admitted to the navy.
She would go on to become the first African-American woman to enlist in the United States Coast Guard. Today, a Coast Guard Training Center in Washington D.C. is named in her honor.
She moved to New York after her service.
In 1947, she received her Masters from the Teachers College of Columbia University. In 1961, Dr. Hooker received her PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester. She later became a psychologist and a professor at Fordham University.
She was referred to by many as a national treasure.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the day of her death, Dr. Hooker was remembered by many throughout the local community.
Pastor Turner of Vernon A.M.E. Church, said in a News 6 story: “She’s a champion. She had an undying spirit that her good will toward her neighbor was not even quenched by the terrible incident in 1921.”
“She was an advocate for Americans with disabilities, working tirelessly on mental health issues in correctional facilities and, at the age of 95, began volunteering in the Coast Guard Auxiliary,” said Admiral Karl Schultz the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard in the same news story.
Dr. Hooker was inducted into the American Women of Heritage Spirit of Women Archives in Greenburgh in 2015. And the Greenburgh Town Board honored her with a ceremonial street naming.
“Olivia was loved in Greenburgh and contributed to our community,” said Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. “She always had time for everyone, whether it was the President of the United States or children interviewing her for a project about her life. Olivia was very nice and modest. And frequently called about town related issues that concerned her. She will be missed.”
In a statement, State Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said: “As the last survivor of the Tulsa Race Riot, Dr. Olivia Hooker was a witness to one of the worst race-based massacres in our nation’s history. …She worked tirelessly to pursue justice for the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot and to speak out against hate and violence. …I was proud to have her as a constituent and a friend. Her life should be an inspiration to all Americans and an example of what can be accomplished when we confront hatred and bigotry.”
Dr. Hooker was inducted into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame in 2012 and was honored on her 100th Birthday with a Senate Resolution.”
Other honors Dr. Hooker received during her life include the American Psychological Association Presidential Citation in 2011.
On Feb. 9, 2015, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke in Congress to “pay tribute” to Dr. Hooker.
On May 20, 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Dr. Hooker’s Coast Guard service and legacy while in attendance at the 134th Commencement of the United States Coast Guard Academy.
On Nov. 11, 2018, Google honored Dr. Hooker by telling her story as part of a Google Doodle for the Veterans Day holiday.