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John E. Wilson

John Ethelbert Wilson was a business executive and accountant. Known by his friends and family as Big John, Wilson was born on December 9, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois, to Carrie Simpson Wilson and Leroy Wilson. Among members of Wilson’s extended family were his uncle, Arthur Jewell Wilson, the first African American certified public accountant in Illinois, and his grandmother, Dora McDermott, a building owner and manager with property in Chicago’s Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard. Wilson grew up in the Bronzeville/Grand Boulevard area, and attended Wendell Phillips Elementary and High School, which counted amongst its alumni members of the original Harlem Globetrotters, Nat "King" Cole, Dinah Washington, and John H. Johnson.

Wilson went on from Wendell Phillips High School to Northwestern University’s School of Commerce, where he received his B.S. degree in 1954, and was the first African American to graduate from the program. Following college, Wilson served in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1957, returning to Chicago to work for his uncle from 1957 to 1963. It was during this period that Wilson married Velma Brown in 1960; they subsequently had two children, Ginger and Kelly.

In 1963, Wilson was hired by the State of Illinois Commerce Commission as an auditor. From there, Wilson went to work at Bowey's, Inc., as general accountant in 1964. Wilson became a certified public accountant in 1965, and became Capitol Food Industries, Inc.’s treasurer and Bates Packaging Company’s controller in 1969. Wilson also served as the president of John E. Wilson, Ltd., and assistant treasurer of the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

In addition to these responsibilities, Wilson was a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants; the Illinois Society of Certified Public Accountants; the National Association of Minority Certified Public Accountants; Kappa Alpha Psi; Sigma Pi Phi; and Trinity United Church of Christ. He was awarded with the Alumni National Award in 1996.

John Wilson passed away on October 16, 2013.

Accession Number

A2005.168

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/21/2005

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Middle Name

R.

Occupation
Schools

Wendell Phillips Academy High School

Wendell Phillips Elementary School

Northwestern University

First Name

Ginger

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WIL27

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

The Jay Pritzker Foundation

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite Quote

I Will Never Leave You. I Will Never Forsake You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/9/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Hamburgers

Death Date

10/16/2013

Short Description

Accountant John E. Wilson (1932 - 2013 ) was a former auditor for the State of Illinois Commerce Commission, and assistant treasurer of the Public Building Commission of Chicago. In addition to these duties, he founded John E. Wilson, Ltd., an accounting firm based in Chicago, Illinois.

Employment

Bowery's Chocolate Company

Capital Food Industries

Wilson and Gills

John E. Wilson, Ltd.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue, Tan

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John E. Wilson' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John E. Wilson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John E. Wilson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John E. Wilson describes the Ida B. Wells Homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John E. Wilson describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John E. Wilson recalls his inspiration to become an accountant

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John E. Wilson remembers his paternal grandmother, Dora McDermott

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John E. Wilson describes his mother's personality and his likeness to her

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John E. Wilson describes his childhood jobs

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John E. Wilson remembers being mugged as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John E. Wilson describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John E. Wilson describes his childhood personality and influences

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John E. Wilson describes the influence of church on his life

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John E. Wilson remembers Chicago's Wendell Phillips Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John E. Wilson remembers classmates at Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John E. Wilson remembers playing basketball at Wendell Phillips High School

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John E. Wilson recalls his time at Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John E. Wilson describes choosing Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John E. Wilson describes housing at Northwestern University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John E. Wilson describes his social life at Northwestern University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John E. Wilson remembers studying accounting at Northwestern University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John E. Wilson recalls racism in accounting firms and at Northwestern University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John E. Wilson remembers his professors and graduating from Northwestern University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John E. Wilson recalls his time in the U.S. Navy, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John E. Wilson recalls his time in the U.S. Navy, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John E. Wilson remembers his work as an auditor

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John E. Wilson describes his wife, Velma Brown Wilson

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John E. Wilson remembers working at Capital Food Industries, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John E. Wilson describes his accounting firms

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John E. Wilson describes competition in accounting

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John E. Wilson talks about volunteering

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John E. Wilson describes good accounting practices

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John E. Wilson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John E. Wilson reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John E. Wilson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - John E. Wilson talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - John E. Wilson describes his organizational affiliations and how he hopes to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

3$2

DATitle
John E. Wilson describes his childhood personality and influences
John E. Wilson remembers studying accounting at Northwestern University
Transcript
How would you describe yourself as a kid growing up, were you--what kind of a kid were you and how would other people see do you think?$$I think I was--because in my particular building there were three buildings [in Ida B. Wells Homes, Chicago, Illinois], there was a gang, and I think I was little bit frightened about that. First thing my mother [Carrie Simpson Wilson] would've killed me if had been a gangbanger, but I didn't I'm not saying that I'm I did everything straight. But I never had the nerve to do many crooked things, I would do some things, in those days they had those big old red streetcars going down the street. And I would hop on the back sometimes like the kids, but that was just danger to myself, I wasn't hurting CTA [Chicago Transit Authority], I could've fallen off and got killed. I don't think that I ever did anything illegal, you know where I could've gone to jail or something like, matter of fact I know I didn't. And then a couple of my friends were doing illegal things and I would see them with money and stuff, and I would say, "Man, I'd sure like to get some of the money." They wouldn't even, they wouldn't even talk to me about stuff like, guys would say to me, "Hey, don't you ever do anything like this you know. You our boy, you growing up around here being honest, stay that way." So I think I was, I also would study some, I never study as much as I should have, but I would do, always do my homework. And I always liked stuff like arithmetic for some reason, and geometry and trigonometry you know through high school [Wendell Phillips High School; Wendell Phillips Academy High School, Chicago, Illinois]. And I would do, I would do my work, I wish sometimes I worked a little harder, but then on the other hand whatever I did must've been okay 'cause I passed one of the hardest exams to get through, especially in those days the CPA [certified public accountant] exam you know. But I think I was just, I was ordinary, I didn't have a lot of money, but I was honest, and, and that honesty was the influence of my mother. It would've broken her heart if I had done something and wound up you know in real trouble. And I, I don't know, I always respected my mother, 'cause I used to see her work so hard for us, I mean tremendously hard.$Were there any black instructors at Northwestern [Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois] when you were there?$$None, there might've been some, I was the first black to graduate they tell me now from the Commerce School [Northwestern University School of Commerce, Evanston, Illinois]. Now it's called Kellogg [Kellogg School of Management, Evanston, Illinois], but I never saw a black instructor anywhere, and if so, they could've been some downtown [Chicago, Illinois] on the Northwestern campus. But I'm not sure, but I never saw one up in Evanston [Illinois].$$Okay now did you, were, were you majoring in accounting?$$Yeah, and the reason was obviously I knew I had an uncle [Arthur Wilson] that was a CPA [certified public accountant] and accounting of all the courses seem to be, come to me it was easier for me than most things. So I just kept taking accounting courses, I can't tell you that I was the greatest student in the world, but the accounting came pretty easy. And I just looked up one day I had a major in accounting, I hadn't started off to be a CPA though.$$Okay what, what were you, did you have a specific goal when you started?$$Just to graduate from Northwestern and since I was in the, in the Commerce School, to get some type of job with some company, that my education would lead me to, I thought. What happened is, when I was graduating and they had job interviews everybody ignored the black people. Actually from the Commerce School, there wasn't but one guy me, and when the, when the accountants--they had the Big Eight Firms up from there and the large regional firms and nobody would talk to you. They would just say, "That's very fine," and brush you off you know, they wouldn't be insulting but it was insulting. And nobody would talk to me, and then you know what, as I think back, I never knew anybody, any black guy that was working in one of these big white accounting firms, no one. And I didn't realize I never thought about the fact that I was in the Commerce School and there were only two guys. I was ahead of a guy of by the name of Woods, I wanted to say Woodside [ph.], but that isn't his name, he's dead now. But you know I never thought about that, but the black student association about ten years ago honored me and gave me a big plaque and whatnot. And they were the ones that told me they had researched and found out I was the first black to graduate from the Commerce School. But when I came out trying to get an accounting job, it was impossible; the only job I got was with my uncle, at a very low rate (laughter).