OliviaHooker2

Dr. Olivia J. Hooker is the first African-American female to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. (Photo Courtesy of Twitter)

What becomes a living legend most? In the case of Dr. Olivia J. Hooker, the first African-American female to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard, humbly living well and continuing to reach back to support others.  In celebration of Hooker’s 100th birthday, the Oklahoma-native and Tulsa Race Riot survivor lent her name to a scholarship to provide 10 students with educational support.

Hosted by decorated Coast Guard officer Rhonda Fleming-Makell, Hooker was lauded as the quintessential phoenix, rising from riot trauma and institutional racism to earn a doctorate in psychology and teach at Fordham University in New York.

“You have these women of audacity who do not ask for permission, did not ask, ‘Can I?,’ but just did it,” Julianne Malveaux said of Hooker at the ceremony. “We have to stop asking for permission and take what belongs with us. We learn that though racism and sexism are everywhere, it ought not prevent us from achieving. This is the message that Dr. Hooker’s life has given to us.”

Hooker told the AFRO that it was difficult as a child to reconcile the unprovoked attack on Black citizens by White mobs that left thousands dead, homeless, wounded, and sexually violated.

Before the pillaging rampage, Tulsa had been particularly prosperous, according to Hooker, who called the community, “self-contained.” Known as the Black Wall Street, Tulsa epitomized Black racial uplift, economic pride, and the American dream. After a Black window washer bumped into a White female elevator attendant in an downtown building, charges of rape and the call for a subsequent lynching rang out. This singular incident set off eight days of mass murder and pillaging that leveled the town.

“The state militia took all of the Black men and disarmed them, holding them at the Convention Hall and Fairgrounds. Their guns were given to Whites, who were told that with only the women and children remaining in the town, they were free to do as they wanted with them,” Hooker said. “Most of the people knew there was prejudice and racism, but I didn’t know there were people who would do hateful things to people who had not bothered them at all.”

Lively, spry and full of charm and wit, Hooker made light of outliving her doctors, dentists, and plumber over the years. She also sang the praises of the AFRO Newspaper, which she said gave her brother one of his first jobs and the Murphy family, the ladies of whom she attended Camp Atwater alongside as a girl.

“I am so proud that the AFRO Newspaper is still around,” Hooker said. “People need to understand that there is still nothing like the Black press to educate and uplift – and really to advocate for Black people.”

Hooker scholarship honorees Michelle Dickerson, James Israel, Natalie Preston, Maya Simms, Meteo Andrews, Adanne Gibbs, Devin Brown, Brooke Wilson, Corena Wallace, and Gabrielle Dickerson, each received $1,000 toward their educational expenses.

“I am overwhelmed by all of the beautiful tributes and those who are supporting me, because at 100 years old, you need people to help you do things and remember things and they are all here,” Hooker said.