Cleveland Clinic: Recipient of the gift that keeps on giving.
QUESTION: What lies beneath the ever-expanding main campus?
ANSWER: A sizeable piece of the American Dream.
In the summer of 1968, taking advantage of the riot-induced White Flight epidemic, Winston E. Willis purchased several abandoned buildings on East Euclid Avenue and 105th Street and transformed them into successful businesses, creating a first-of-its-kind Black business empire. Expanding even further, he subsequently went on to make wide, sweeping purchases of even more Euclid Avenue properties, thereby creating what became known colloquially as “Black folks downtown”, “an inner-city Disneyland”, and “The Black Wall Street of Cleveland”. 105th and Euclid quickly became a Black utopia of entertainment venues and services of all kinds. Owned and operated by the militantly outspoken young Black businessman who was determined to bring quality entertainment and services to the Black community that had not been offered to them previously. Restaurants, movie theaters, penny arcades, adult entertainment, convenience stores. Employing hundreds of Black residents of the area and attracting hordes of patrons from all over the state. But even with all of the visible success, and while exhibiting fierce racial pride, Winston Willis was also speaking out against the institutional and systemic racism he was encountering and fighting a battle with corrupt city officials and the local judiciary. This eventually led to the illegal thefts and destruction of his entire business empire.
Although he held on for over 15 years, educating himself in the law, fighting back valiantly while completely depleting his million-dollar cache, he fiercely protected his properties and defended his constitutionally guaranteed property rights in epic courtroom battles. But his powerful enemies always had the upper hand. Finally, in 1982, after being falsely arrested on a bogus “bad check” charge and while he was being held in solitary confinement in an Ohio penitentiary, Winston’s entire Euclid Avenue business empire was illegally seized and destroyed, and the land gifted to the Cleveland Clinic. A significant portion of what is now the 170-acre main Cleveland Clinic campus was literally stolen from him without a dime of compensation. Just or unjust. Today, the Cleveland Clinic is a world-renowned medical metropolis valued at $12.6 Billion and continues its massive expansion, negatively impacting and wiping out previously thriving Black neighborhoods nearby. All while continuing their 40-year illegal occupancy of stolen properties still rightfully owned by my 82-year-old brother, Winston E. Willis. With the Clinic’s reported $3.2 billion in operating revenue and $339 million in operating income, theirs is the proverbial gift (of stolen land). The gift that keeps on giving.