Richard Austin was Michigan’s first African-American certified public accountant, and also the first African-American to be elected to statewide office in the state. Austin was born May 6, 1913, in Stouts Mountain, Ala.
As a student at the Detroit Institute of Technology, Austin sold and shined shoes while attending night classes. He became a CPA in 1941, making his first historic mark. Austin opened an accounting firm in the Detroit area, assisting other rising Black business owners.
Active in civil rights and local politics, Austin narrowly lost a primary election for Detroit mayor in 1969. In 1971, he was elected as Secretary of State, and reelected for several terms before losing a final bid, leaving office in 1994. During his time in the role, Austin contributed to changes in state laws, including instituting a vehicle belt safety law and crafting the state’s child passenger safety law.
Austin was also responsible for overseeing elections and license renewals of all sorts and brought innovative ideas to the forefront such as combining voter registration and driver’s license renewal. Austin was also the first African-American auditor in Wayne County, along with his other notable firsts.
Richard Austin passed in 2001 at the age of 87.
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