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Dr. Olivia Hooker, survivor of the Tulsa race riots of 1921

MAHALET DEJENE | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

Dr. Olivia Hooker, 96, is a brilliant, beautiful woman. She is also a survivor of the Tulsa, Okla. race riots of 1921. Last Wednesday, City Councilmember Charles Barron and the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus honored the New York resident in a Seated Meeting at City Hall. In a modest ceremony, Hooker accepted a proclamation as a survivor of the vicious racist attacks on the community of Greenwood, fondly referred to as the "Black Wall Street."

Independent and highly efficient, the community had thrived as a center for innovative business and Black wealth. Thousands of African-Americans inhabited the town, contributing to the various businesses, restaurants, churches and schools that they themselves built and cultivated.

And then, in less than a day, the entire community was destroyed. Gunshot sprayed the streets and businesses were set ablaze. It was not just organized white groups that attacked--it was ordinary people, fearful of the power that "Negroes" were accumulating. Whites raised their artillery against the Blacks in this town and succeeded in silencing the riots the Blacks held in opposition.

Published reports of the number of people who died that night range from 300 to 3,000, but what is indisputable is the number of people affected: millions. African-Americans on the path to rise up and surpass oppression were deflected, and those who dared to dream freely and exchange segregation for commercial success in their own communities were pulled back down to the status quo.

The fact that Hooker survived this devastation and grew up to become a valuable member of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Rights Movement is a feat to be celebrated.

Born in Muskogee, Okla. in 1915, Hooker was one of five children born to parents who were both teachers. Her father moved the family to Tulsa, Okla. when she was 3 years old to pursue his goal of being an entrepreneur. He opened a department store that was very successful and had many loyal customers who understood that "if they were loyal to the businesses in the Tulsa area, the people there would thrive," as Hooker explained.

And, as recorded, the area did thrive, even if the growth was short-lived.

"I haven't forgotten any of it," said Hooker, reflecting on the armed riot on her home when she was just 6 years old.

"It was such a shock to me because when I had been in school--a little private school--I thought everything in the Constitution about rights and liberties was for everybody, but I learned I was wrong."

The police came into the town to try and "protect" the Blacks, but Hooker said she does not believe the sentiment was sincere. "You don't protect someone by shooting them with bullets," she said.

Hooker remembers the moment the white rioters came onto her property. The first thing they did was burn the brand-new doll's clothes hanging out on the clothesline; the clothes her grandmother had made for her brown doll. They then came into her home to "maraud and steal and break things" before taking her father and only brother, who was 8 years old at the time, to a confinement facility where they were rounding up the town's Black men.