Apparently, Chicago's black community is not keen on the name "Willis," which last month was affixed to what had always been the Sears Tower, the city's tallest building. And it's not because it has suspicions about Willis Group Holdings, the London-based insurance broker that has been linked to the Ponzi scheme by Allen Stanford.
Rather, it's that Willis reminds black residents of Benjamin C. Willis, a public school superintendent who 50 years ago resisted the Supreme Court order to desegregate the city's schools.
When it came to keeping black kids out of white schools, Willis displayed a diabolical imagination. Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Don Rose recounts how Willis conspired
to fill the black schools' grounds with portable classrooms to prevent 'overflow' into white schools. As protests against segregation grew in the early 1960s, the portable classrooms became known as "Willis Wagons." Eventually, there were 625 wagons in black schoolyards.Sounds pretty despicable. What school district would possibly hire Willis after he revealed his racist streak? (Answer -- as if you can't guess -- after the jump.)
[jump] Yep, Broward County, which hired Willis in 1971.
But it seems Chicago's black community was glad to be rid of him, and for the writer, Willis' matriculation to South Florida set up a nifty punchline:
So now we have a Willis Tower -- unrelated to the past.
What's in a name?
Ben Willis died in 1988 -- in a place called Plantation, Fla.