A Woman You Should Know — Olivia Hooker

“It’s not about you, or me, but it’s about what we can give to this world.” — Olivia Juliette Hooker.

She was born February 12, 1915. An Aquarian. Aquarians tend to be shy and quiet. They are humanitarians, emotional, temperamental, progressive. They hate injustice. (I know, I am an Aquarian)

Pretty little Olivia Hooker lived with her mother Anita, Father Samuel and four siblings in the Greenwood District of Tulsa. Her father owned a clothing store, her sister played Bach on the piano.

It was an old story told over and over again, year after year in America. A false rumor (fable, myth, fear tactic) a black teen had raped a white woman.

It was said thousands of whites poured into Greenwood destroying, setting fire, killing. The final count would be between 37–300. Shameful that we do not know the exact count or all the names. 10,000 were left homeless.

May 31, 1921 white men invaded six-year-old Olivia’s home. They were carrying torches and axes. Her mother found a large tablecloth and hid all five children (and I assume herself?) under a table. Her mother told her to be quiet. She tried so hard to remain silent. To stay alive. To breathe not too loud, otherwise something bad was going to happen.

Six Years Old and Holding her Breath to Survive

The children heard the curses from the invaders, the grunts as they took axes to the piano and set fire to their possessions. They would do the same to their father’s store.

Yet they survived. They moved to Topeka, Kansas where Olivia still didn’t get it. Her mother sent them to the movies. A quarter a piece. The manger told them “You’re not welcome here.” She knew what that meant.

The Nation moved on and tried to sweep those days in Oklahoma under the rug.

Ground Breaking

Olivia grew up. She was rejected by the WAVES. Wrong color. She persevered. She became the first African American U.S. Coast Guard. She received her PhD in clinical psychology in 1961. Her dissertation was on children with Down’s Syndrome. She became a psychology professor at Fordham.

In 1997 she was one of the founders of Tulsa Race Riot Commission to investigate those harrowing nights and days that she had survived. As an activist she vowed to make sure what happened in Tulsa was not a secret. She would keep speaking out.

She died in 2018 at age 103. A remarkable woman. A remarkable life.

She Refused to Stop Sharing her Story

This was a voice -

a brain -

a person — that did so much that could have been lost to us forever.

In recalling that night she said, “I guess the most shocking thing was seeing people, to whom you had never done anything [author’s emphasis] to irritate destroy your property.”

Today we remember Olivia Hooker and all those who died, and lives were shattered in Tulsa — not so long ago that we should ever forget. #tulsa #juneteenth #heros #barakobama

Acknowledged for her Life and Work

Honored for her work inspiring women, in 2020 Zemeckis will be awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in part for “sharing and preserving stories of women who were once marginalized and stigmatized . . .” but due to her work “these women are now celebrated for their independence and personal agency.” The Medal is officially recognized by both Houses of Congress and is one of our nation’s most prestigious awards. Past recipients include Presidents Clinton and Reagan, Elie Wiesel, Sen. John McCain and HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.

www.lesliezemeckis.com for more of her work.

Author (Feuding Fan Dancers), Historian (Behind the Burly Q), Actor (Polar Express) & Doc. Director (BOUND BY FLESH -Netflix). (IG/FB @lesliezemeckis)