Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Surviving Tulsa Race Riot Witnesses, Dies At 103 Olivia Hooker was 6 during the Tulsa Race Riot. She died Wednesday at 103 and was one of the last surviving witnesses to what is seen as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.
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Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Surviving Tulsa Race Riot Witnesses, Dies At 103

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Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Surviving Tulsa Race Riot Witnesses, Dies At 103

Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Surviving Tulsa Race Riot Witnesses, Dies At 103

Olivia Hooker, One Of The Last Surviving Tulsa Race Riot Witnesses, Dies At 103

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  • Transcript

Olivia Hooker was 6 during the Tulsa Race Riot. She died Wednesday at 103 and was one of the last surviving witnesses to what is seen as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to take a few minutes now and remember a voice that we first broadcast on this program back in May.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OLIVIA HOOKER: My name is Olivia J. Hooker.

SHAPIRO: Olivia Hooker died yesterday at the age of 103.

As a young girl, she witnessed the mob violence that African-Americans in Tulsa, Okla., suffered at the hands of white residents in the spring of 1921. That riot was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history. Hooker, who was African-American, lived in Tulsa as a child and witnessed the attack. She told her story to Radio Diaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HOOKER: The black part of Tulsa - it was a neighborhood where you could be treated with respect. My father had a very nice store - Samuel D. Hooker and Son. It was a store that didn't carry shoddy things. They had Arrow shirts, Kuppenheimer suits, Florsheim shoes and Stetson hats. And those were all good names in those days.

It was May 31, 1921. At first, we saw a bunch of men with those big pine torches come through the backyard. And I remember our mother put us under the table. She took the longest tablecloth she had to cover four children and told us not to say a word. It was a horrifying thing for a little girl that's only 6 years old - trying to remember to keep quiet so they wouldn't know we were there.

As those marauders came into the house, they were trying to destroy anything that they could find. They took a huge axe and started whacking at my sister Aileen's beloved piano - whack, whack, whack. It was a good piano, and they thought that was something we shouldn't have.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOOKER: When they left, they went on, you know, to do more damage to people who lived beside us and down the hill. They tried to destroy every black business, school and church. Our school - Dunbar School - was blasted with dynamite, and my father's store was destroyed. I mean, there was nothing left but one big safe. It was so big they couldn't carry it away, so they had to leave it in the middle of the rubble.

To me, I guess the most shocking thing was seeing people to whom you had never done anything to irritate, who just took it upon themselves to destroy your property because they didn't want you to have those things, and they were teaching you a lesson. Those were all new ideas to me. But I guess that's part of the growing up process.

After the riot, we didn't stay in Tulsa. We moved to Topeka. Our parents tried to tell us, don't spend your time agonizing over the past. They encouraged us to look forward and think how you could make things better. I think things can get better, but maybe it won't be in a hurry.

SHAPIRO: Olivia Hooker went on to become the first African-American woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard. She also founded the Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997 to investigate the massacre and make a case for reparations. She died yesterday at the age of 103.

Our story was produced by Radio Diaries as part of their series, Last Witness. You can find more of their stories on the Radio Diaries podcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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