Little Known Black History Fact: Olivia J. Hooker

Dr. Olivia J. Hooker turned 102 years of age this past Monday and in this same month in 1945, she made military history.

Dr. Hooker became the first African-American woman to join the United States Coast Guard after being rejected by the United States Navy.

Hooker was born February 12, 1915 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the age of six, Hooker witnessed the Ku Klux Klan ransack her home during the violent Tulsa Massacre of Black Wall Street and is one of the few, if not only, survivors of that moment in history. The family relocated to Columbus, Ohio, and Hooker graduated from Ohio State University in 1937. The Delta Sigma Theta soror attempted to enter the Navy and was denied due to her race.

She was eventually allowed to join the Navy after contesting the denial, but Hooker elected to join the Coast Guard instead. Hooker was part of the SPAR (Semper Paratus Always Ready) division, a part of the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. The unit was disbanded in 1946. The following year, Hooker obtained her master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University and worked with women in an upstate New York prison.

In 1961, Hooker earned her Ph. D from the University of Rochester and in 1963, she joined the faculty of Fordham University, teaching until 1985. She retired two years later, and at the age of 95, she joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the civilian reserve of the branch.

 

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