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Olivia Hooker: The Last Surviving Witness Of The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Olivia Hooker The Last Surviving Witness Of The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Olivia Hooker was the first African-American woman to join the United States Coast Guard. She earned a Ph.D. before retiring as an associate professor of psychology at Fordham University in New York.

However, by the time she died in November of last year, she had established a reputation as the last living witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.

The incident was sparked because a 19-year-old black shoeshiner named Dick Rowland was accused of raping a 17-year-old white female elevator operator named Sarah Page. It is considered one of the most horrific and racially motivated attacks on African Americans that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A white mob finally stormed and destroyed the black residents’ homes in Greenwood, which was at the time the most prosperous African-American enclave in the country.

Because it was home to highly successful and prosperous black-owned firms, it was even dubbed “Black Wall Street.”

Hooker was six years old when the community’s race riots erupted. Hooker’s mother hid her and her siblings behind a table as the white mob marched through Greenwood, shooting people in the street and setting fire to their homes.

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Olivia Hooker As A Kid

She told The Washington Post last year, “We could see what they were doing.” “They took everything they believed was valuable,” explains the narrator. Everything they couldn’t take was smashed. My mother was a huge fan of [opera singer Enrico] Caruso’s albums. The Caruso records were shattered.”

She told The Washington Post, “It took me a long time to get over my nightmares.”

What she remembers most vividly from the terrifying episode as a child is what the mob did to her doll’s clothes.

“My grandmother had sewn some lovely outfits for my doll. It was our first encounter with an ethnic doll… She put them on the line after washing them. The first thing the marauders did when they arrived was set fire to my doll’s clothes. That irritated me greatly.”

But, according to Hooker, what was perhaps more disturbing was “seeing individuals who you had never irritated, who simply took it upon themselves to trash your possessions because they didn’t want you to have those things, and they were giving you a lesson,” she told NPR.

Hooker’s family relocated to Topeka, Kan., after surviving the incident, and Hooker went on to get a teaching certificate from Ohio State University.

Minorities were allowed to join the female military corps during World War II, according to then-President Franklin D Roosevelt. Hooker attempted to join the Navy’s Women’s Reserve but was turned down, so she joined the Coast Guard’s Women’s Reserve, known as Spars, in 1945.

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Olivia Hooker With A Colleague

She was the first African-American woman to accomplish so.

Recruiter Lt Margaret Tighe later stated on Miss Hooker’s enlistment, “It was not easy for Miss Hooker to take the step of enrollment.”

“She is the first African-American woman to be accepted by the Spars, and she is well aware of this. She has a genuine passion to serve and believes she is paving the way for young ladies of her own race.”

Hooker was stationed in Boston and was responsible for a variety of administrative tasks, including processing discharge papers for the numerous Coast Guardsmen who were returning to civilian life after the war.

Coast Guard spokesperson Barry Lane described her as a “national treasure” and “a really special lady.”

Hooker went on to receive a master’s degree from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Rochester after the Spars program was terminated in 1946. According to the Coast Guard, she later worked as a lecturer at Fordham University in New York.

Hooker joined the Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997, which tried to obtain restitution for those who had been harmed by the violence.

The commission published a report in 2001 that “detailed for the first time the degree of the municipal and state government’s role in the riot and the cover-up that followed, as well as the absolute absence of justice available in the courts at the time.”

Rowland, a 19-year-old black shoeshiner, entered the Drexel building at 319 South Main Street on May 30, 1921, to use the top-floor blacks-only lavatory. At the time, the building had only one elevator, which was manned by a white female elevator operator named Page.

Rowland, according to sources, slipped and landed on Page, causing her to scream in terror. Even though Page refused to press charges, a white shopkeeper who observed the altercation alerted the cops, who eventually detained Rowland and charged him with assault.

A white-owned local newspaper published the events and called for his lynching. On May 31, 1921, Rowland was processed and hauled to court, but tensions between the white crowd who had come to lynch Rowland and the black people who were also present to secure his safety erupted into a 24-hour armed struggle.

The incident’s aftermath has been reported in a variety of ways, but a recent examination by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission concluded that almost 300 people died.

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Hooker, who survived the sad occurrence, was a volunteer with the Coast Guard Auxiliary in her final hours. She was still giving information about the tragedy and what she had learned from it at the age of 95.

She did this until she died in her home in White Plains, New York, at the age of 103, leaving no surviving family.

Former President Barack Obama called her “an inspiration” three years before she died.

“She was a professor and a mentor to her students, a passionate advocate for Americans with disabilities, a psychologist counseling young children, a caregiver during the AIDS epidemic, and a persistent fighter for justice and equality.”

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