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Olivia Hooker, Tulsa Race Riot Survivor, Dies At 103

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're now going to look back at the life of Olivia Hooker. She has died at the age of 103. If you don't know her name, we're going to share some of her story and one important chapter in particular. Olivia Hooker witnessed the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

OLIVIA HOOKER: It was May 31, 1921. At first, we saw a bunch of men with those big, pine torches come through the backyard.

MARTIN: Hooker was only 6 years old at the time. The attack on black areas of Tulsa turned into a massacre. She told her story to the Radio Diaries series earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HOOKER: 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.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

White men entered that home, took an axe to the piano and then left. In the predominantly African-American middle-class neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, hundreds of people were killed. More than a thousand homes and businesses, including Hooker's father's store, were destroyed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HOOKER: 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.

MARTIN: Olivia Hooker's family soon left Tulsa. She said her parents encouraged her and her siblings not to look back but to look forward. Hooker went on to become the first African-American woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDMUND'S "ABOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.