The Entire Staff of Lee's Funeral Home, LLC respects that Dr. Olivia J. Hooker herself, and her family, entrusted her care to our professional, premier African-American firm, and that they value the level of service & attention our historic funeral home (also 103 years) provides. We are honored, in turn, to provide care, comfort, assistance and service to Dr. Olivia J. Hooker & her family during their time of bereavement.
NOTE: The following is reprinted with permission from Sandra Blackwell & The Westchester County Press, as printed in The Westchester County Press Vol. LXXXIX No. 48 Thurs. Nov. 29, 2018 Edition:
Westchester Mourns the Loss of Dr. Olivia J. Hooker
By Sandra T. Blackwell
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, sorority sisters, and historians from Greenburgh, New York to Tulsa, Oklahoma, paused on Wednesday, November 21, 2018, to take in the sad news that Dr. Olivia J. Hooker, the last known survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, had passed away in her home in Greenburgh, New York. She was 103 years of age.
“Olivia was loved in Greenburgh, and contributed to our community. 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,” said Paul Feiner, supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh.
While the larger community of Westchester County was just hearing the news, hundreds of miles across the country, the Tulsa community had already begun to mourn the death of one of its own, whose family suffered at the hands of an angry lynch mob who burned down the Greenwood District, a section Tulsans called Black Wall Street on May 31, 1921.
This writer heard Dr. Hooker tell her story several years ago during a presentation at the Croton Free Library in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1915, Olivia J. Hooker’s family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her father owned a department store, her mother taught grade school in the Greenwood District, which was referred to as “Black Wall Street,” and home to hundreds of other successful Black business owners and professionals during the early 1900’s .
The city of Tulsa was having its share of racial problems like many cities only fifty-six years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Segregation was the law of the land and lynching was common whenever Whites felt Blacks were getting out of line or moving up too fast. The citizens of Tulsa were already upset about a recent lynching, when a young man, Dick Rowland, only 19, went into the only building in downtown Tulsa where Blacks could use the toilet. On this day, May 30, when Rowland stepped on the elevator, the white woman elevator operator started to scream. The local newspaper published the story the next day with a headline that read: “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.”
The next day May 31, an angry lynch mob descended on the courthouse where Rowland was being held, to take justice into their own hands. The angry mob faced a group of Black war veterans, who tried to save the young man, but many died, some were burned alive, some saw their homes and property destroyed. These acts of violence against the Black citizens are considered to be one of the worst atrocities in American history, when 300 members of the Black community were killed in the two-day assault.
Dr. Olivia Hooker was only six years old when her community in Tulsa was destroyed on May 31, 1921, in the worst race riot in the history of the United States. The Tulsa Race Riot resulted in the deaths of many people, and the burning of more than one thousand homes and businesses. Dr. Olivia J. Hooker vividly remembers being awakened by the thudding sounds of machine gun ammunition raining down on her family’s home.
Hooker said her mother made sure, she was an eyewitness to what she never saw as a riot.
“She took me to the front window and had me peer through the blinds and said that’s a machine gun up there,” said Dr. Hooker in a past interview. “This is a not a riot, this was a massacre.”
When the lynch mob of whites came to Greenwood to get their justice, they burned houses and killed many Black people. Hooker’s family survived because of the quick thinking of her mother, who hid the children under a big oak dining room table. From their hiding place, the children watched as the men broke their property, stole valuable items and smash things they didn’t want or couldn’t carry.
The massacre forced 10,000 black Tulsans from their homes. Possibly more than three hundred people were killed. The Hooker family survived the terrible massacre. Her father moved the family to Topeka, Kansas. Mr. Hooker returned to Tulsa to try to rebuild his business. Olivia eventually returned to finish high school.
“My father’s store was destroyed,” Hooker told Radio Diaries. “There was nothing left but one big safe. It was so big they couldn’t carry it away, so they had to leave it — in the middle of the rubble.”
Dr. Olivia J. Hooker earned her Bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and taught third grade. During World War II, Hooker was a part of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s efforts to integrate the Navy. After being denied entrance in the Navy, she became the first African-American woman to serve in active duty in the Coast Guard. She earned the rank of Yeoman, Second Class.
She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Psychological Services from Teachers College at Columbia University and a Doctorate degree from the University of Rochester, where she was one of two black female students.
In 1997, along with other survivors, Dr. Hooker helped found the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, which drafted recommendations for restitution. Their case went to Oklahoma State Legislature and to Capitol Hill where she and others testified before the United States Congress and initiated a federal lawsuit.
Olivia J. Hooker, one of the last known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, was remembered at a memorial service on Friday, November 23rd, in Tulsa in the old family church, Vernon AME Church, which was burned and rebuilt after the riot.
In a 2-hour service for a survivor who lived the longest to tell the story, the community gathered to remember a soldier who did not leave her troops on the battlefield. She fought for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot to the very end of her life. She never got tired of telling their story.
“She had to leave everything she and her family knew. That didn’t deter her. She continued on in her education, got a Ph.D. and she went on to serve her country. A country that never really did much for her, as far as justice,” said Dr. Robert Turner, pastor of Vernon AME Church.
“Hooker fought for civil rights throughout her life. She was the first African American woman to serve in the Coast Guard. She earned a doctorate, was a teacher, and psychologist. When she was 100, the Coast Guard named a training facility after her. When circles were built to keep her out, she pushed in and she became the first,” said Nehemiah Frank of the Black Wall Street Times.
In LIEU of flowers, she herself kindly requested/appreciates contributions be made in her name/memory/honor to: The United Negro College Fund and/or American Red Cross (may be done through donation tab here further below, or on tribute tab, or on your own).