StoryCorps: 1st Black Woman In The Coast Guard Reflects At 103 Olivia Hooker advocated for the military to open its doors to women of color. But even after policies started to change, "nobody seemed to be joining," she said. So she decided to join herself.

Before Making Military History, She Witnessed One Of History's Worst Race Riots

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And it's time now for StoryCorps. On this final Friday of Black History Month, we have a conversation with the first African American woman to join the Coast Guard. Olivia Hooker of Muskogee, Okla., joined the Coast Guard in 1945 and recorded this StoryCorps interview shortly before her death in 2018.

OLIVIA HOOKER: This is Olivia J. Hooker. I am now 103. And I was the first black woman entering the Coast Guard. I hadn't known anything about boats before, and I was assured that I would never do any job but scrub decks and wash big pots and pans. But, by Jiminy, I never washed a pot, never scrubbed the deck. There were girls from so many places. It was so interesting to hear their tales. There were so many things that really impressed me at how different life was in an African American home. One thing I learned is that it's a good thing to follow an order. But there are times when it makes sense not to follow an order. Being in the military, it means a great deal to me because I truly think everyone should do what they can to sustain their country.

INSKEEP: Olivia Hooker, the first African American woman to join the Coast Guard. In 2015, President Obama recognized her career and legacy in a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. Olivia Hooker died in 2018, just two months after this interview was recorded, and her conversation will be archived with many others at the Library of Congress.


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