Dr. Olivia Hooker, 100-Year-Old Survivor Of The “Black Wall Street” Massacre, Recounts Her Experience

October 5, 2015  |  

Source: Facebook

We like to be timely around here but there are some gems that just fly under the radar. And while we would have loved to have discovered these interviews when they were initially released, the history shared in it, is as important today as it was then.

Today, when Black people talk about economic disenfranchisement, the sentiment is often met with the argument that Blacks should pull themselves up by their bootstraps or stop “being lazy.” In reality though, there were many Blacks, after the abolition of slavery who did just that. And instead of being commended for their efforts, their homes and businesses were bought out or, in most cases, burned down. It happened to a Black enclave called Seneca Village in what is now Central Park. It certainly happened throughout the south. And perhaps, most famously, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in what was known as Black Wall Street, the wealthiest Black community in the United States at the time.

The burning lasted 16 hours from May 31 to June 1, 1921. In the 35 city block community, 1,256 residences were destroyed in the fire and an estimated 10,000 Black people were left homeless. The number of Black deaths ranged from 55-300.

It would take the city of Tulsa 80 years to apologize for the destruction. Though survivors founded the Tulsa Race Riot Commission and filed a lawsuit seeking reparations, the motion was denied. There was no financial compensation for the victims or their remaining relatives.

Dr. Olivia Hooker was one of the survivors of this racially motivated attack, which she refuses to call a riot.

Hooker, who is now 100, was just six-years-old when her community was burned down, destroyed forever.

Earlier this year, during her 100th birthday celebration, Hooker spoke with the Wall Street Journal and recalled the day:

“I remember that day because it was a bright, shining day and we were supposed to get our report cards at school that day. But of course we didn’t get to school that day and our school was bombed and it was just rubble, just rocks. There was no school left there. 

My mother had to instruct me that what I was listening to was not hail, it was bullets. “

Five years earlier, at the age of 95, she sat down for an interview and described how the attack challenged the way she saw the world.

“I refuse to call it a riot because it was really Whites decided to burn down the homes of 10,000 people. That was not a riot. It was planned desecration. We were just small children and my family had not told me about prejudice and hate and things like that. I thought everything in the preamble to the Constitution referred to me. I didn’t find out until this terrible night. 

When the mobs came in, they had those pine knots all lighted up and they set things on fire. My mother refused to run because she was busy putting water on the house to keep it from burning. And so, she put the children under the big oak table. You know they had those great big tables, in those days, with little nooks under them. So, we were under the table when the mobs came in. And my mother had said, ‘Well, we have to eat no matter what.’ So she was cooking. And they got so angry that she had–what she called– her three cornered pots on the stove and she had something different in each pot. So they took those out and threw them in the backyard. And then they took the beautiful brown biscuits out of the oven and took them out and smashed them in the mud. So we’re under the table looking at all of this. 

So it was very devastating to me because the only non-Black people that I ever saw were people who wanted to sell my father things for his store. And they brought presents for the children and listened to my sister play the piano. You know how salesmen behave. I thought that was the way all non-Black people behaved.”

And though the incident would stay with Hooker and her family members for the rest of their lives, they didn’t let the ugliness and hatred of others keep them from pursuing their goals. Hooker received her bachelors from Ohio State University, her masters 10 years later from Columbia University and her PhD in psychology in 1961 from the University of Rochester. At 45-years-old, Dr. Hooker became the first Black woman to join the Coast Guard. She said she did so, not because she had any particular interest in the military but because she wanted to break down the barrier for other women who might want to join.

Both my parents were teachers and they were very intense in telling you ‘You have to think of another way to get around things when you have obstacles in your life. You have to create a new way and go forth and never stop trying. Never give up.

You can watch Dr. Hooker’s interviews in the videos on the following page.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
blog comments powered by Disqus