Update: Oliva J. Hooker died at 103 years old on November 21, 2018.
Yesterday (May 31) marked 97 years since White mobs and privately commissioned bomber planes burned Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street“ area to the ground and killed hundreds of its Black residents. Olivia Hooker, now 103 years old, may be the last living link to the destruction of the Greenwood neighborhood.
Hooker related the horror of the attack on Greenwood, one of the wealthiest Black neighborhoods of the early 20th century. She was 6 when White men carrying “big pine torches” ransacked her family’s home as she and her siblings hid under a table.
“They took a huge axe and started whacking at my sister Aileen’s beloved piano—whack, whack, whack,” she recounted. “It was a good piano. And they thought that was something we shouldn’t have.”
“They tried to destroy every Black business, school and church,” Hooker said about the White mob, which collectively destroyed nearly 35 city blocks—including the one that housed her father’s high-end clothing store. She then fled with her family to Topeka, Kansas.
NPR noted that Hooker later became the first Black woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard and earned a doctorate in psychology. In 1997, She forced public accountability for the systematic destruction of her neighborhood as a co-founder of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission.
Listen to the full episode of “Radio Diaries” featuring Hooker: