Dr. Paul Ortiz

passions, projects and the ponytail.

Affiliate faculty member Dr. Paul Ortíz has served as an associate professor with UF's Department of History and as the director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program since 2008. During his tenure, SPOHP has received three national academic awards and has raised more than $1 million in grants and contracts.

A neighbor to the Bob Graham Center on the second floor of Pugh Hall, SPOHP regularly collaborates with the center to provide public programs that bring to life historical figures and time periods which continue to influence current social and political constructs and policy.

Since its founding in 1967, SPOHP has collected more than 7,000 interviews and has provided numerous fieldwork opportunities for UF students — putting them in direct contact with individuals and groups who have helped to shape history. Its research has been featured in exhibits, documentaries, dissertations, books and numerous other platforms.

SPOHP celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, so we sat down Dr. Ortiz to learn more about his passions, projects and the ponytail.

SPOHP staff and students at Anastasia Books in St. Augustine with store owner and author Sandra Parks, chair of the Stetson Kennedy Foundation.


Ph.D., History
Duke University, 2000

B.A., History and Political Economy
Evergreen State College, 1990


Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 Remembering Jim Crow (2005)

Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Jim Crow South (2014)

An African American and Latinx History of the United States (2018)


Excellence in Teaching Award, University of California, Santa Cruz (2004-2005)

César E. Chávez Action and Commitment Award, the Florida Education Association (2013)

Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Award (2014)

U.S. Armed Forces' Humanitarian Service Medal (1985)

Lillian Smith Book Prize, Southern Regional Council (2002)

Harry T. and Harriett V. Moore Book, Florida Historical Society and the Florida Institute of Technology (2005)

Mort Wolfson Faculty Service Award for Advising and Teaching, UF Division of Student Affairs (2017)


African American History Project (AAHP)
Mississippi Freedom Project (MFP)
Veterans History Project (VHP)
Latina/o Diaspora in the Americas Project (LDAP)
Florida Queer History (FQH)
Native American History Project (NAHP)
Ottoman Greeks of the United States (OGUS)
Florida Senior Federal Judges Project

"One  of the best professors I've ever had. He knows his stuff and his  stories are inspiring. You actually want to write the papers he assigns."  

"I have never had a professor who cared more for his students.  He is extremely understanding and will work with you every step of the way if you're struggling, whether it be with the material or issues  outside of class. If you put effort into this class, you will leave a  better person with a better GPA."
SPOHP staff with Jeremy Houston, director of Miss Lou Heritage Group & Tours LLC., at the Natchez, Mississippi African American History Museum, 2015.

What do you think about when you're alone?

How do we get people reading books again?

What inspires you?

The local movement culture at UF and in Gainesville especially. We have so many incredibly dedicated people in this community who have organized to support social justice issues including the Dream Defenders, CHISPAS, National Women’s Liberation, and the Alachua County Labor Coalition. These groups have made real progress in raising area wages, creating a wage recovery ordinance in Alachua County, defending immigrant rights and women’s rights. And now, our community is at the center of an amazing statewide Voting Rights Restoration Campaign in Florida. If we succeed in getting the Voting Rights Restoration amendment on the ballot—and it passes muster with the voters—this will be the largest re-enfranchisement of voters in American history. Isn’t that amazing?

Which two organizations outside your own do you know the most people at and why?

The Civic Media Center and the Alachua County Labor Coalition. The latter because it has made an enormous impact in passing pro-working people’s legislation at the county level. The Civic Media Center because it has provided so many people in this region a place to meet, to learn, and to study the history of social movements locally as well as nationally and internationally.

What do you work toward in your free time?

I am working with area organizers on getting signatures for the Voting Rights Restoration amendment petition campaign. This has allowed me to have wonderful discussions about politics and public policy with complete strangers. Many individuals who self-identify as "Trump Republicans" have signed the petition because they think that permanently disenfranchising convicted felons in Florida is a violation of our shared principles of Americanism.

If you won the lottery… say $10 million, what would you do with the money?

Give everyone at SPOHP a big raise. We have the hardest working Oral History program staff in the nation! With the leftover money I'd by the coolest slot car racing cars and track in the world and challenge Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to the race of his life.

Tell us about the ponytail. How long have you been growing your hair?

A long time. I grew up in a Marine Corps family. As a child my father cut my hair to Boot Camp regulations. I later served in the U.S. Army for several years. Once I left the service I thought I’d try a different hair philosophy. I use the money I save from avoiding haircuts in order to buy books.