Oklahoma House District 97 lawmakers praise Hannah Atkins

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 21-Jun-2010

Individuals who have represented Oklahoma House of Representatives’ District 97 in recent decades today (Monday, June 21) issued statements praising the life of their colleague, Hannah Atkins, who passed away last week

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.

She went on to high-ranking appointive office in Oklahoma, also representing the United States at the United Nations in New York City.

Late in her active public life, Mrs. Atkins served on the KIDS (Keep Improving District Schools) Project of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation. Her work with a small task force later blossomed into a major effort involving dozens of community leaders from every sector of Oklahoma City. From that effort the historic 2001 referenda that provided millions of dollars, after voter approval, for the MAPS for Kids improvements in the physical plants of Oklahoma City Public Schools.

State Rep. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, a Democrat, who has represented District 97 since 2004, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK:

“Hannah Atkins is a member of a very select group of Oklahomans who truly broke down barriers for all citizens. She first ran for office only four years after a federal court order opened the door for African-Americans to serve in the Legislature, and she was the first black woman to win election.

“Although she faced the vestiges of racism and sexism, Hannah overcame all obstacles in her path to become a longtime and effective leader in the Oklahoma City community, eventually being appointed Secretary of State.

“The fact that no African-American has since risen to that level of power in politics in Oklahoma shows we are still working to achieve true equality in Oklahoma and demonstrates just how extraordinary Hannah Atkins was. Her life and example will always be an inspiration to those who face seemingly insurmountable odds but refuse to yield.”

The man who succeeded Atkins in the District 97 post, Kevin Cox, also reflected on Mrs. Atkins life and example:

“Hannah Atkins was a legend in her own time.  Over the years, she was an inspiration to me and my family as a neighbor in the Northeast Sooner Road area.  Because of Hannah Atkins, I prepared myself to succeed her in the House of Representatives from 1980 to 2004.  She will always be an integral part of our history in the state of Oklahoma.”

Former state Rep. Jerry Sokolosky, the District 97 representative from 1965-1968, said in his statement about her life: 

“In her quiet, but confident way, Hannah was a leader not only in the Oklahoma Legislature, but in the entire state. She always gave credit for her many accomplishments to others.”

Late last week, Mrs. Atkins’ powerful example was praised by state Rep. Jabar Shumate of Tulsa, a Democrat serving as chairman of the Black Caucus in the Legislature. Also expressing gratitude for Hannah Atkins life was state Rep. Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, also a Democrat.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.