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Standish E. Willis

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Information about Standish E. Willis

Profile image of Standish E. Willis

Profession

Category:
LawMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Lawyer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Brown
Favorite Food:
Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii, New Mexico
Favorite Quote:
Stay strong.

Birthplace

Born:
8/16/1941
Birth Location:
Chicago, Illinois

Profession

Category:
LawMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Lawyer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Brown
Favorite Food:
Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii, New Mexico
Favorite Quote:
Stay strong.

Birthplace

Born:
8/16/1941
Birth Location:
Chicago
See how Standish E. Willis is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Criminal defense attorney Standish E. Willis is quick to make enemies in his work, but only because he insists on doing the right thing. Born in Chicago on August 16, 1941, the ex-gang member-turned-lawyer simply followed his conscience in choosing to take on unpopular clients whose civil rights are violated.

Willis grew up on the West Side, a blue-collar neighborhood and haven for gangs. When he was twelve, Willis joined the Van Dyke street gang and two years later was the leader of the Gents street gang. He became a father at age seventeen. Six months after graduating from Crane High School in 1960, Willis shipped off to the U.S. Air Force and shaped up. When he returned four years later, he took a job as a bus driver and began attending Crane College. As a student, Willis grew politically active, leading the campaign to name the new West Side campus Malcolm X College and organizing clubs and a "Communi-versity" to promote African and African American History.

In 1968, Willis completed his A.A. and transferred to the University of Chicago. He received his B.A. in 1971 and earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Illinois, Chicago, before enrolling at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He received his law degree in 1983 and joined People Law Office, a civil rights law firm.

In his career as an attorney, Willis has been an active crusader against police violence. He organized the African American Defense Committee Against Police Violence and later came full circle when he signed on to represent former street gang leader Aaron Patterson, who was convicted of a double murder in 1989. Willis took the case because Patterson claimed Chicago police beat a confession out of him, and Willis has made no apologies for offering counsel to such an unpopular figure.

In 1984, the Standish E. Willis Community Service Award was established to recognize a student for outstanding leadership and community involvement. Willis has been the recipient of several other awards for his service to civil rights and the community. Willis resides in Oak Park, Illinois. He has five children.

See how Standish E. Willis is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Standish E. Willis's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis names his parents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains how his family moved to Chicago, Illinois during the Great Migration
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis remembers his father's stories of racism in the South
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis describes his father, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis describes his father, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Standish E. Willis describes his mother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Standish E. Willis talks about how his parents met
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls his childhood neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis recalls the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up on the West Side of Chicago
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis recalls the importance of sports in his childhood neighborhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis describes the emergence of street gangs in Chicago
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis describes the systemic neglect in his childhood neighborhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis recalls his experience at William E. Gladstone Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis recalls his high school experience in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis talks about working to support his son as a teenage father
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis explains why he decided to enter the U.S. Air Force
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time in the U.S. Air Force
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes how he was politicized while working for the Chicago Transit Authority during the 1960s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis explains why Black Nationalism appealed to him rather than the non-violent Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis recalls learning about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains the distinctions between the South Side and the West Side of Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about Malcolm X's political philosophies
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis talks about the Black Students Association at Crane Junior College, later Malcolm X College, in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis describes the issues that concerned him and other student activists at Crane Junior College in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis talks about entering the University of Chicago in Illinois
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis describes the beginnings of Communiversity in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis talks about his studies at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis recalls HistoryMaker John Hope Franklin
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about his studies at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains why he decided to become a lawyer
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis talks about his shift from labor law to civil rights law
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time at the People's Law Office during the 1980s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis remembers the Fred Hampton case
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Standish E. Willis describes his involvement with Harold Washington's mayoral campaigns
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Standish E. Willis details his involvement with various networks including the National Conference of Black Lawyers
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls the Andrew Wilson case in 1987 that exposed the practice of torture in the Chicago Police Department
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes the aftermath of the Jon Burge torture case
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis talks about the Aaron Patterson case
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about wrongful conviction cases in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis talks about reluctance in the African American community to criticize law enforcement's encroachment on civil liberties
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis discusses the problems with the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act of 2001
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis discusses Illinois's conflicted stance around civil liberties and the death penalty
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis talks about whether he fears retaliation for his work
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis talks about organizing for reparations
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 2
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis speculates about various ways to enact reparations
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis considers what he would have done differently
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about his parents' pride in his career
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis describes how he would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 3