Fordham Professor, Coast Guard Pioneer and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Olivia J. Hooker to Receive Recognition following her 100th Birthday

Dr. Olivia J. Hooker during her time in the Coast Guard. Photo from the United States Coast Guard via the Wall Street Journal.
Dr. Olivia J. Hooker during her time in the Coast Guard. Photo from the United States Coast Guard via the Wall Street Journal.

Nationally recognized pioneer in the rights of minority students and retired Fordham University Professor of Psychology Dr. Olivia J. Hooker is a lifelong civil rights activist and the first African American woman to enlist in the Coast Guard. To celebrate her life and 100th birthday, the Coast Guard will name a building on Staten Island in her honor on March 12th.

“I was astonished,” Dr. Hooker told the Wall Street Journal, as she celebrated her birthday Feb. 12 with friends–along with a Coast Guard color guard and a  note from President Barack Obama–at a church near her home in the Westchester County town of Greenburgh. “I never would have expected anything like that to happen.”

Dr. Hooker has both made and witnessed history. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1915, she moved with her family to Tulsa, Oklahoma a few years later, and was six-years-old when her community in Tulsa was destroyed on May 31, 1921, in one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. The Tulsa Riot resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, and the burning of more than 1,000 homes and businesses.

Dr. Hooker vividly remembers being awakened by the thudding sounds of machine gun ammunition raining down on her family’s home. She remembers her mother carefully leading her to the window and pointing to the hill where a machine gunner was stationed and saying, “That is a machine gun on that hill, and there’s an American flag on it. That means that your country is shooting at you.”

The Hooker family survived the massacre, and Olivia—along with her two sisters, Naomi and Irene—went on to earn Bachelor’s degrees from the Ohio State University. In 1945 and after campaigning with her sorority for integration, Dr. Hooker became the first African American woman to enlist in the Coast Guard. She earned the rank of Yeoman, Second Class.

Following her time in the Coast Guard, Dr. Hooker earned a master’s degree in psychology from Teachers College at Columbia University, and then a doctorate from the University of Rochester, where she was one of two African American female students.

In 1962, Dr. Hooker joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Fordham University and taught courses in Psychology until she retired in 1985 as an Associate Professor. During this same time, she also served as Director of Psychology and Association Administrator for 22 years at New York’s Kennedy Child Study Center.

In 1997, Dr. Hooker, along with other survivors of the “Black Wall Street” massacre 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. In the same year, she became the oldest member ever inducted in the international honor society in Psychology, Psi Chi.

Over the last 100 years, Dr. Olivia J. Hooker has not only survived some of the most violent and turbulent times of United States history and lived long enough to tell it; even more impressively, she has been a relentless contributor and maker of U.S. History.

To learn more about Dr. Hooker’s extraordinary life read her profile on Psychology’s Feminist Voices.


5 thoughts on “Fordham Professor, Coast Guard Pioneer and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Olivia J. Hooker to Receive Recognition following her 100th Birthday

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s