Olivia Hooker

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Olivia Hooker
Olivia Hooker DVIDS1101558.jpg
Hooker in 2011
Olivia Juliette Hooker

(1915-02-12)February 12, 1915
DiedNovember 21, 2018(2018-11-21) (aged 103)
EducationOhio State University (BA)
Columbia University (MA)
University of Rochester (PhD)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Coast Guard
Years of service1945–1946
RankYeoman Second Class
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsCoast Guard Good Conduct Medal

Olivia Juliette Hooker (February 12, 1915 – November 21, 2018) was an American psychologist and professor. She was one of the last known survivors of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, and the first African-American woman to enter the U.S. Coast Guard in February 1945. She became a SPAR (Semper Paratus Always Ready), a member of the United States Coast Guard Women's Reserve, during World War II, earning the rank of Yeoman, Second Class during her service.[1][2] She served in the Coast Guard until her unit was disbanded in mid-1946; she went on to become a psychologist intern at a women's correctional facility and a clinical professor at Fordham University.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

One of five children, Hooker was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Samuel Hooker and Anita Hooker (née Stigger).[5][6][7] The family was living in the Greenwood District of Tulsa on May 31, 1921, when a group of white men carrying torches entered their home and began destroying their belongings, including her sister's piano and her father's record player. She and her siblings crouched under a table, hidden by a tablecloth, until the men were gone.[8][9] "It was a horrifying thing for a little girl who's only six years old," she told Radio Diaries in 2018, "trying to remember to keep quiet, so they wouldn't know we were there."[10] The attack was part of the Tulsa race riots of May 31–June 1, 1921, in which members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white residents of Tulsa destroyed the Greenwood District—also known as Black Wall Street for the concentration of Black-owned businesses in the area—killing as many as 300 people and leaving more than 10,000 homeless.[9]

In 1997, Hooker and other survivors of the massacre founded the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, to investigate the massacre and its aftermath, and seek reparations.[2] In 2003, she was one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed against the state of Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa by more than 100 survivors and about 300 descendants of people who lost their lives or property in the attacks, seeking compensation due to the local governments' involvement in the massacre; the US Supreme Court dismissed the case without comment in 2005.[5][11]

After the riots, her family moved to Topeka, Kansas, and then to Columbus, Ohio, where she earned her bachelor of arts in 1937 from The Ohio State University and taught third grade.[6][12] While at OSU, she joined the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, where she advocated for African-American women to be admitted to the U.S. Navy.[13] In 1947, she received her master's from the Teachers College of Columbia University,[14] and in 1961 she received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester, with her dissertation on the learning abilities of children with Down syndrome.[15]


U.S. Coast Guard[edit]

Olivia Hooker (front) with Aileen Anita Cooks (behind) on the USS Commodore (nicknamed USS Neversail) during boot training, Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn

Hooker applied to the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) of the U.S. Navy, but was rejected due to her ethnicity.[15] She disputed the rejection due to a technicality and was accepted; however, she had already decided to join the Coast Guard.[16] She entered the U.S. Coast Guard in February 1945. On March 9, 1945, she was sent to basic training for six weeks in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, New York. Throughout training, Hooker became a Coast Guard Women's Reserve (SPARS) and had to attend classes and pass exams. She was one of only five African-American females to first enlist in the SPARS program. After basic training, Hooker specialized in the yeoman rate and remained at boot camp for an additional nine weeks before heading to Boston[16] where she performed administrative duties and earned the rank of Yeoman Second Class in the Coast Guard Women's Reserve.[11] In June 1946, the SPAR program was disbanded and Hooker earned the rank of petty officer 2nd class and a Good Conduct Award.[16][17]


After receiving her master's degree from the Teachers College of Columbia University, Hooker moved upstate to work in the mental hygiene department of a women's correctional facility in Albion County.[18] Many women in this facility were considered to have severe learning disabilities by staff. Hooker felt they were treated unfairly and re-evaluated them in hopes to help the women pursue better education and jobs after their time in the facility. She credited this success with "approaching them with an open mind."[13] The correctional facility today continues to help women earn a degree and job experience for when they are released.

In 1963, she joined Fordham University as a senior clinical lecturer and an APA Honors psychology professor; eventually she served as an associate professor until 1985.[19]

Hooker was one of the founders of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Division 33, Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and was later honored by the Association for her work with children. She served as an early director of the Kennedy Child Study Center in New York City[18] where she gave evaluations, extra help, and support/therapy to children with learning disabilities and delays.

Later life and legacy[edit]

Hooker retired at the age of 87.[2] She joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary at age 95[8] and served as a auxiliarist in Yonkers, New York.[20]

Hooker received the American Psychological Association Presidential Citation in 2011.[15] In 2012, she was inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans' Hall of Fame.[12]

On February 9, 2015, Kirsten Gillibrand spoke in Congress to "pay tribute" to Hooker.[17] In the same year, the Olivia Hooker Dining Facility on the Staten Island coast guard facility was named in her honor.[8][21] A training facility at the Coast Guard's headquarters in Washington, D.C. was also named after her that same year.[22]

On May 20, 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Hooker's Coast Guard service and legacy while in attendance at the 134th Commencement of the United States Coast Guard Academy.[23]

On November 11, 2018, Google honored her by telling her story as part of a Google Doodle for the Veterans Day holiday.[24]

Hooker died of natural causes in her home in White Plains, New York on November 21, 2018, at the age of 103.[25]

Tulsa Girl, by Shameen Anthanio-Williams, is a book focused on Hooker's experiences in the Tulsa Race riots.[26]

In October 2019, it was announced that the fast response cutter USCGC Olivia Hooker would be named in her honor. This will be the sixty-first Sentinel-class cutter, due to be delivered to the Coast Guard after 2023.[27]


  1. ^ Thiesen, William H. "SPAR Olivia Hooker: First African American Woman in the Coast Guard" (PDF). United States Coast Guard: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Coast Guard Names Training Facility After 1st Black Woman In Service". News One. March 16, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  3. ^ MacKay, Jenna (October 19, 2017). "Profile: Olivia Hooker". Psychology's Feminist Voices. Archived from the original on October 19, 2017. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  4. ^ Gay, Mara (February 28, 2015). "Olivia J. Hooker: Coast Guard Pioneer, Fordham Professor and Activist". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved March 16, 2018.(subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Brown, DeNeen L. (November 22, 2018). "Olivia Hooker, one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, dies at 103". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (November 23, 2018). "Olivia Hooker, 103, Dies; Witness to an Ugly Moment in History". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Black History Month: Survivor Recalls 1921 Tulsa Race Riot". CBS News. February 12, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c "Dr. Olivia Hooker, 1st Black Woman in U.S. Coast Guard, Honored with Training Facility & Dining Hall Dedications". Good Black News. March 16, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Meet The Last Surviving Witness To The Tulsa Race Riot Of 1921". National Public Radio. May 31, 2018. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  10. ^ "Remembering Olivia Hooker". Radio Diaries. May 30, 2019. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Gay, Mara (February 27, 2015). "Olivia J. Hooker: Coast Guard Pioneer, Fordham Professor and Activist". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Stewart-Cousins, Sen. Andrea (2012). "Dr. Olivia J. Hooker - New York State Senate". New York State Senate. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Miller, Anna (November 2012). "Living history: Pioneering psychologist and civil rights activist Olivia Hooker reflects on her legacy". American Psychological Association. Archived from the original on November 22, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  14. ^ Young, LT Stephanie (October 29, 2013). "Olivia Hooker: A SPAR's Story". U.S. Coast Guard. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
  15. ^ a b c MacKay, Jenna (2013). Profile of Olivia Hooker. In A. Rutherford (Ed.), Psychology's Feminist Voices Multimedia Internet Archive. Retrieved on March 18, 2015 from this link.
  16. ^ a b c Young, LT Stephanie (October 29, 2013). "Olivia Hooker: A SPAR's Story". Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  17. ^ a b "Congressional Record, Volume 161 Issue 21 (Monday, February 9, 2015)". Gpo.gov. February 9, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  18. ^ a b Cautin, Robin L (April 2012). "The indomitable Dr. Olivia Hooker". The General Psychologist. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  19. ^ Gay, Mara (February 27, 2015). "Olivia J. Hooker: Coast Guard Pioneer, Fordham Professor and Activist". WSJ. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  20. ^ "US Coast Guard Honors TC Alum and Centenarian Olivia Hooker". Teachers' College Media Center, Columbia University. April 9, 2015. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  21. ^ "Dr. Olivia Hooker Turns 100 | Juniper Hill Civic Association". Juniperhillny.com. February 7, 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  22. ^ "Coast Guard Names Training Facility After 1st Black Woman In Service". The Chicago Defender. March 16, 2015. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved April 25, 2015.
  23. ^ "Remarks by the President at the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement". whitehouse.gov. May 20, 2015. Retrieved February 12, 2017.
  24. ^ Godlewski, Nina (November 11, 2018). "Veterans Day Google Doodle Honors Veterans and their stories through videos". Newsweek. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  25. ^ "Last survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre dies". KJRH. November 21, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  26. ^ Anthanio-Williams, Shameen. (October 4, 2016). Tulsa girl. Drumond, Sergio. ISBN 9781537610443. OCLC 981768226.
  27. ^ "Coast Guard releases names of next 10 Fast Response Cutters". Coast Guard News. October 23, 2019. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

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