Curtis Austin became the Assistant Director of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage in 2000, before assuming the Directorship one year later. During his seven year tenure, the Center would expand its Civil Rights Documentation Project, becoming the definitive resource for researchers, teachers and museums seeking answers on the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.
In this episode, Austin recalls growing in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the son of sharecroppers. He recounts his education and early career. His first oral history interview after becoming assistant director of the Center was of 104 year old King Evans. He remembers how it changed the way he thought about voting rights. As director of the oral history program at USM, Austin interviewed some key players in the Civil Rights Movement. He expresses pride in the Center’s work and discusses its importance.
Austin also discusses the Roots Reunion, a live Americana music program presented annually by the Center during the 1990s and 2000s. He describes the program’s impact.
The Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage has always relied on grant funding for special programs and projects. Austin expresses disappointment in the university’s unwillingness to assist the Center financially during lean years and questions their level of support for this “hidden gem” during previous administrations.