Winston Willis: A Buried Treasure
The beauty of sitting around sharing memories about the past is that it is a wonderful way to build a healthy future.
Specifically, as African Americans, the history and treasures that have been hidden underneath what is now Cleveland Clinic and University Circle leave a lot of unanswered questions, unresolved pain, and forgetting an unforgettable controversial complex black man named Winston Willis. Winston Willis created a space, a place, a collective identity, and purpose for Blacks during the explosive, racially segregated Cleveland during the 1960s. An outspoken businessman full of confidence, business acumen and unlimited racial pride, Winston fulfilled a vison of Black economic prowess and power.
Mr. Willis owned real estate properties mostly between 105th and 107th and Euclid Avenue. This astute visionary took advantage of white flight, swooping in without hesitation to revitalize an area with twenty eight businesses that employed over several hundred people, mostly African American. Consequently, his self-made million dollar empire presented itself as a nuisance or a small bump in the road preventing the mega-billion dollar project to expand the world-famous Cleveland Clinic’s campus connecting it with Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals. This set the stage for a stand-off between a fearless young, wealthy and militant Winston against the juggernaut force of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Throughout decades, Winston used all of his fortune fighting in the courts, trying to protect his properties as his constitutional right. In addition to the Cleveland Clinic, Winston battled against other powerful political elites such as: Cleveland Police Department, the local courts, housing inspectors, and high profile firms who all made it clear that they wanted Winston Willis out.
Eventually the powers of the white establishment were too much as Winston got arrested on a bogus bad check charge and put in prison while the city engaged in the massive unlawful taking and immediate bulldozer demolition of all his Euclid Avenue buildings worth millions. Despite all this, Winston continued his fight all the way up to the Supreme Court. Winston never stopped fighting.
Is this tragic story worth being told for those who don’t know? What is the lesson for us to learn as Black people? Is there an opportunity in Winston’s sacrifice to gain power as a people? Every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak, carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
For more information about Mr. Willis click on the link below: