State of the State Presenter

Presenter: Curtis Austin, Ph.D.


Dr. Curtis Austin is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi. He is the fifth of six children. After graduating from Yazoo City High School in 1987, Dr. Austin attended the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in Hattiesburg, where he majored in History and minored in Spanish. After spending a portion of his last year of college in Mexico studying Spanish and South American History, Dr. Austin later completed his Master of Arts degree at USM, concentrating in United States and Latin American History.
In 1993, he received a Doctoral Fellowship from the Graduate School at Mississippi State University. There, he concentrated his studies in U.S. Social History and Race Relations with an emphasis in Black Protest History. He minored in Quantitative Statistics and Latin American and Caribbean History. After completing his Ph.D., Austin moved to Orlando, Florida and began work in the History Department at the University of Central Florida. At this point, he began writing a book entitled Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party. The book was published in October 2006 by the University of Arkansas Press and has received wide acclaim from students, lay people, activists, and scholars in the field. In 2007, Austin’s book garnered critical acclaim when it received the Choice Library Journal’s Outstanding Academic Title Award. He is also the author of articles, book chapters, and book reviews covering topics in black history. From 2001- 2006, Dr. Austin served as director of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage. In 2007, Dr. Austin became the founding director the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Black Studies. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of African American and African Studies and the Director of the Young Scholars Program at The Ohio State University.

Dr. Austin is currently conducting research on two major projects. The first is a book length oral history project examining the circumstances surrounding the recent trial proceedings of eight former members of the Black Panther Party who became known as the San Francisco 8. The other is a biography of Clyde Kennard, a veteran of the Korean War and the first African American to attempt to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi. Kennard died from mistreatment and over-work after having been framed by state and local authorities and sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly stealing two bags of chicken feed. Kennard’s story predates James Meredith’s of Ole Miss fame by more than half a decade. Austin recently completed a short documentary on the life and times of Clyde Kennard and is currently working with a prominent filmmaker to turn the documentary into a feature length film.