MI Black History: Michigan’s First African-American Secretary of State

Q: Who was Michigan’s first African-American secretary of state?

A: Richard H. Austin became the first African-American to hold statewide office in Michigan when he was elected to serve as the secretary of state in 1971. He held the office until 1995. Born in Stouts Mountain, Ala., Austin earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Detroit Institute of Technology and worked as an accountant. In 1962, he served as a Wayne County delegate to the state’s constitutional convention. His first attempts to hold elected office failed — he lost a Congressional bid to John Conyers in 1964 and a Detroit mayoral campaign in 1969. However, the following year, he had a successful campaign to become Michigan’s secretary of state and served during three gubernatorial administrations. During his time in office, Austin advocated for the enactment of laws enforcing seat belt use and child safety seats. He died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001.

richard austin

Richard Austin

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