Richard H. Austin

Richard Henry Austin (May 6, 1913 – April 20, 2001) was an American politician. A Democrat, he served as the Michigan secretary of state from 1971 to 1995, the first African American elected to the position, the first to win election to any statewide office in Michigan except the Supreme Court, and the longest-serving secretary of state in the state. Also the first Black certified public accountant in Michigan, he previously served from 1967 to 1971 as the first Black Wayne County auditor, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Detroit in 1969.

Richard H. Austin
Richard H. Austin.png
Richard H. Austin, 1975
39th Secretary of State of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1971 – January 1, 1995
GovernorWilliam Milliken
James Blanchard
John Engler
Preceded byJames M. Hare
Succeeded byCandice Miller
Wayne County Auditor
In office
Personal details
Born(1913-05-06)May 6, 1913
Stout Mountain, Alabama
DiedApril 20, 2001(2001-04-20) (aged 87)
Detroit, Michigan
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Ida Austin

Early life and educationEdit

Austin was born in Stouts Mountain, Cullman County, Alabama.[1][2] His father, a coal miner,[3] died when Austin was 11, after which his mother moved with her three sons to Detroit;[2] as a child he worked as a bootblack.[4]

After graduating first in his class from Cass Technical High School, he was awarded an athletics scholarship to Wayne University, but had to leave for financial reasons; working in a shoe store and taking night classes, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from the Detroit Institute of Technology in 1937,[1][4] and in 1941 became the first Black certified public accountant in Michigan.[1][4][3][5]

Professional careerEdit

In 1941, Austin founded the accounting firm of Austin, Washington & Davenport. After becoming Secretary of State, he sold the firm, which in 1971 became George Johnson & Company and now operates as GJC CPAs & Advisors.[6]

Early political careerEdit

Austin served as an elected delegate for the Wayne County 6th District to the constitutional convention that produced the 1962 Michigan Constitution.[2][4] In 1962 he also served on the Michigan State Board of Equalization and was elected to the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. He was co-chairman of the Michigan Commission on Legislative Apportionment from 1963 to 1965.[4]

In 1964, he ran for Congress in Michigan's 1st congressional district, but lost to John Conyers in the Democratic Party primary election by 38 votes.[4][7]

He was elected the first Black Wayne County auditor in 1966.[5][8]

In 1969 he ran for mayor of Detroit, leading in the primary[3][9] but lost to fellow Democrat Roman Gribbs, 49% to 51%.[1][4][8][10]

Michigan Secretary of StateEdit

In 1970, Austin was elected as the Michigan Secretary of State, the first Black to hold the position in any U.S. state[2] and the first Black elected to any statewide office in Michigan except for the Supreme Court.[5] He became the longest-serving Secretary of State in Michigan history,[2][5][11] serving until 1994, when he lost a re-election bid to Republican Candice Miller.

During his tenure, Austin emphasized road safety, supporting the enactment of laws mandating use of seat belts and child safety seats, and retention of the law requiring motorcycle helmets,[1][2] and also achieving improvements to driver education and traffic safety.[2] He also introduced mail-in vehicle registration renewals, license-plate tabs, and in 1975 the first "Motor Voter" law, a model for the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.[2][5][11]

In 1976 Austin unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Philip Hart.[12][13]

Personal life and deathEdit

In 1939 Austin married Ida Dawson; they had a daughter.[2][4] He died in Detroit on April 20, 2001, at the age of 87,[1] from a heart attack and Alzheimer's disease.[4][11] His papers are held at Wayne State University.[4]


In recognition of his service to traffic safety, Austin was placed on the Michigan Transportation Hall of Honor in 1996,[4] and the annual award of the Michigan Governor's Traffic Safety Advisory Commission was renamed for him.[2] The Treasury Building in Lansing was renamed to the Richard H. Austin building by an act of the state legislature in 2005.[2][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Richard Henry Austin (1913-2001)". BlackPast. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Richard H. Austin: Michigan Secretary of State, 1971-1994" (PDF). State of Michigan. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "Negro County Auditor, White Sheriff Top Vote Getters in Detroit Mayoral Primary". The North Adams Transcript. Associated Press. September 10, 1969. p. 12 – via
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Richard H. Austin Papers". Archives. Wayne State University Library System. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Justin A. Hinkley (November 3, 2015) [October 27, 2015]. "Murray who? Meet state office buildings' namesakes". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  6. ^ "History". GJC CPAs and Advisors. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  7. ^ "No Change In 5 Vote Recounts". Lansing State Journal. UPI. September 30, 1964. p. 7 – via
  8. ^ a b "Austin Showing Impressive". The Hillsdale Daily News. Hillsdale, Michigan. The Associated Press. November 6, 1969. p. 10 – via
  9. ^ "Detroit: A Victory for Reason". Time. September 19, 1969. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  10. ^ "Sheriff Barely Wins Detroit Mayor's Post". Palladium-Item. Richmond, Indiana. November 6, 1969. p. 22 – via
  11. ^ a b c Merton Davies (April 21, 2001). "Obituaries in the News: Richard Austin". Associated Press. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  12. ^ "MI US Senate - D Primary". Our Campaigns. Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  13. ^ Agis Salpukas (August 5, 1976). "Michigan's Senate Race Pits Riegle Against Esch". The New York Times. Retrieved December 2, 2021.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State of Michigan
Succeeded by