Remembering Dr. Olivia Hooker

Dr. Olivia Juliette Hooker was an American psychologist and professor who passed away peacefully on November 21, 2018 at the age of 103. She was one of the last known survivors of the Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921 and was the first African-American to join the United States Coast Guard.

When she was six years old, Dr. Hooker witnessed first-hand one of the most horrific racially-driven acts of violence to ever take place on American Soil: the Oklahoma Race Riots, also known as the Tulsa Massacre. These riots took place from May 31 to June 1, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when a group of white citizens attacked Greenwood, widely referred to as “the Black Wall Street”. It was the most economically prosperous black community at the time. Hooker was forced to hide under a table while her home was destroyed by rioters. She later gave an interview over U.S. National Public Radio in which she described her personal experience during the massacre and the effect it had on her. Though Hooker had to silently watch her belongings be destroyed as she hid in terror, the physical act of the riots were not what affected her most. "To me, I guess the most shocking thing was seeing people who you had never done anything to irritate, who just took it upon themselves to destroy your property because they didn't want you to have those things, and they were teaching you a lesson,” Hooker recounted. The emotional fear stuck with her for years to come. Surviving the riots, though a horrible experience to endure, was a major reason why she became so dedicated to becoming an advocate for the Equal Rights Movement.

 

During her adult life, Dr. Hooker was an incredibly influential woman who contributed greatly to the Equal Rights Movement and was a prominent feminist figure who advocated for equality for both women and African Americans. After serving in the Coast Guard, she went on to pursue an education and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1937 from Ohio State University, her Masters from the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1947, and in 1961 she received her PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester.

 

Throughout her life, Dr. Hooker affected countless people and touched so many lives. As a child she witnessed one of the most horrific acts of violence, and then used the experience to teach others so that something like it would not happen again. She was one of America’s national treasures, and in 2015, President Barack Obama honored Hooker during a Coast Guard ceremony, calling her a “tireless voice for justice and equality.” That same year, the Coast Guard named a building on Staten Island after her. This article provides more insight into more of Dr. Hooker’s honored achievements.

 

Dr. Hooker was an activist for equal rights among races, genders, and for those who suffered from disabilities, among countless other causes. On top of it all, she was, and still is, one of feminism's most iconic and outspoken symbols. I believe that everyone should know who Dr. Olivia Hooker was, and all the ways in which she so selflessly affected the world around her.