Olivia Hooker, first black woman to serve in U.S. Coast Guard, dies at 103

Olivia J. Hooker, the first black woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard, a professor at Fordham University and the last known survivor of the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, died Wednesday at age 103 in White Plains, N.Y.

Admiral Karl Schultz tweeted his condolences to her family:

“On behalf of the men and women of the #USCG, we extend our sincere condolences to the family of Dr. Olivia Hooker, who passed away today at 103. In 1945, she was the first African-American female to enlist in the #USCG.”

The U.S. Coast Guard echoed Schultz with its own condolences for one of its own:

“It is with great sadness to learn of the passing of Dr. Olivia Hooker, 103, a pioneer in the history of women & minorities in the @USCG & the Nation. On behalf of the #USCG, we’d like to extend our sincere condolences to Dr. Hooker’s family.”

Hooker was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1915. She was six years old when her family survived the violent, underreported Tulsa Riots of 1921 in Oklahoma, considered one of the worse race riots in U.S. history. Reportedly, the riots started when a black man allegedly attacked a white woman in an elevator. Also known as the Black Wall Street Riots, they took place in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood.

National Public Radio and The New York Times reported that Hooker hid under a table as the Klan burned the family home and took an axe to her sister’s piano. Goddaughter Janis Porter relayed to Times Hooker’s response to the attack:

"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.”

After surviving the attack, the Hookers moved to Topeka, Kansas, then Columbus, Ohio. She graduated high school in 1937, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University and taught grade school in Columbus.

In 1945, during World War II and a year after President Franklin Roosevelt opened female military corps to all minorities, Olivia Hooker joined Semper Pratus, or SPAR, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve.

Previously, only Caucasian women could serve in SPAR and the Navy’s Women’s Reserve, better known as the WAVES  for the  Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service , or WAVES.

Encompassing a life of accomplishment, Hooker earned a master’s degree from Columbia University, a PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester and became a professor at Fordham University in New York.

Hooker was a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, now called the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, which has sought reparations for the thousands affected by the violence and their survivors, according to The New York Times.

In 2015, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft dedicated a Washington, D.C.-based center, the Dr. Olivia J. Hooker Training Center, to her. It is located at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters, reported the Coast Guard Compass.

One of her quotes adorns the wall dedicated to her: 

"It's not about you, or me, but it's about what we can give to this world."  

Porter said her godmother had no surviving relatives.

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