State and local officials honored the memory of civil-rights icon Hannah Diggs Atkins with the ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate a section of Interstate 35 in her honor.


State and local officials honored the memory of civil-rights icon Hannah Diggs Atkins with the ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate a section of Interstate 35 in her honor.

“Hannah Diggs Atkins played a huge role in our state’s history,” said state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City. “It is fitting to honor her memory by naming one of our major roads in her honor. This is just one small way to ensure that Hannah Diggs Atkins’ legacy lives on and continues to inspire future generations.”

Atkins was the first black woman elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the first woman to chair a House Committee. She represented House District 97 from 1969 to 1980.

During her term as representative she fought for child welfare, health care, tax and mental health reforms, and civil rights. In 1980 she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a United States delegate to the Thirty-fifth Assembly of United Nations, an honor she considered the highlight of her career.

After her term as state representative ended, Atkins was appointed assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (1983-87) and later to the dual post of secretary of state and cabinet secretary of social services (1987-91).

Shelton authored legislative language that renames a section of Interstate 35 in Atkins’ honor. Under the new law, the portion of Interstate 35 in Oklahoma City running north from Northeast 23rd Street to the junction of Interstate 35 and Interstate 44 will now be designated as the “Honorable Hannah Diggs Atkins, Secretary of State, Memorial Highway.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held today at the new Oklahoma Judicial Center, which houses the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Several members of Atkins’ family attended as well as local officials inspired by her work.

“I was honored to carry this legislation and am proud the state of Oklahoma will continue to recognize Hannah Diggs Atkins’ contributions to our society,” Shelton said. “Every Oklahoman owes her a debt of gratitude. Her life was proof that perseverance and integrity are stronger than prejudice.”