ISS2 2017

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

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Olivia Hooker – Minority Trailblazer and Community Leader Story by William H. Thiesen, PhD, Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian In wartime, men and women of the United States Coast Guard have fought for the freedoms we hold dear. But this holds true not only against external enemies who threaten our way of life, but also less visible forces within American society that have denied rights and freedoms to its citizens. This problem has been experienced first-hand by American minorities, many of whom fought our enemies on one hand while struggling against institutionalized discrimination on the other. Such was the case with Olivia Juliette Hooker, the first African-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform. Born in 1915, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Olivia Hooker was six years old when the Klu Klux Klan burned her father's clothing store in the infamous 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. Her family survived the riots, but Hooker's father sought a community where his children could get an education and live without fear of violence. Hooker's family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where she graduated from high school in 1937. Hooker went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education at The Ohio State University. For the next eight years, she remained in Columbus teaching third grade at the old Garfield School, built in 1883. Meanwhile, World War II was raging. During the war, there existed a number of female military corps, including the Army's WAC's, Navy's WAVE's, and Coast Guard's SPAR's (acronym for Semper Paratus "Always Ready"). In October 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that these female military corps be opened to minority enlistment. African American leaders hailed the president's order. These leaders included Beulah Whitby, president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, who stated, "This order from the commander-in-chief that opens the auxiliary services of the Navy to Negro women is a beach-head in the battle for democracy." By the time the military opened enlistment to minority women, Hooker had nearly reached the age of thirty. However, Hooker's friend and Coast Guard enlisted man, Alex Haley, who later earned fame for such literary works as Roots, encouraged Hooker to join the military. And, though she had experienced discrimination and racial violence in her own country, she made up her mind to support the nation's war effort and enlist. Hooker first tried to join the WAVE's, but the Navy rejected her application. Early in 1945, she applied to the Coast Guard and the Service accepted her for enlistment. On February 17, 1945, a Coast Guard officer swore in Hooker as a member of the SPARs. That same day, Lt. Margaret Tighe at the Columbus, Ohio, recruiting station wrote, "It was not easy for Miss Hooker to take the step of enlistment. She is the first Negro woman to be accepted by the SPARS, and is in full realization of this fact. She feels a sincere desire to serve and further feels that she is opening a field for the young women of her own race." Just a few days after her thirtieth birthday, Hooker had become the first African-American woman qualified to wear a Coast Guard uniform. On March 9, Hooker reported to the Coast Guard's Recent image of o livia Hooker, namesake for a Coast Guard installation at Sector New York, celebrating her 100th birthday. Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard 30 RESERVIST � Issue 2 • 2017

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