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Cleo F. Wilson

Nonprofit administrator and foundation executive Cleo Wilson was born in 1943, and spent her early years in the Chicago housing project of Altgeld Gardens. After spending two years at Robert Crane High School, Wilson graduated from the Frances Parker High School in 1961. Later that year, Wilson enrolled at Chicago State Teacher’s College, now Chicago State University. In her sophomore year, however, she left school to protest school segregation in Chicago’s Englewood community and later, the Vietnam War. After leaving the activist movement to support her children, Wilson worked as a keypunch operator until deciding to return to school in 1973. She received her B.A. degree in English from Chicago State in 1976.

In 1976, Wilson was hired as an accounting clerk for Playboy. She eventually worked her way up to supervisor of Accounts Payable. In 1982, she joined the Playboy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Hugh Hefner’s empire. After just two years, she was appointed Executive Director of the foundation. As its head, she included employees in the process, asking for their opinion on grant decisions. Wilson also engaged the Foundation in the process of “microphilantrophy,”—giving smaller amounts of money to more organizations—including many grassroots efforts in Chicago. Wilson also continued to fight for civil liberties and racial equality, filing a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and State of Illinois to ensure fair voting protection for Chicago’s African American residents and serving as vice president of the Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was also an early HIV/AIDS activist, beginning in the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was still very poorly comprehended and stigmatized by the general public. She was appointed to the Chicago AIDS Foundation’s Board of Directors in 1989, and starting in the next year served as president of that organization for three years.

In 2002, Wilson became president of The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, a Chicago nonprofit organization dedicated to highlighting self-taught and outsider art, and in 2007, she became executive director of the center. She left Playboy after 25 years of service in 2005, but has continued to tour on the lecture circuit and is a board member or advisor for many civic organizations.

Cleo Wilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 25, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.100

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/25/2010

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

F.

Schools

Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory High School

Parker High School

Chicago State University

University of Illinois at Chicago

First Name

Cleo

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WIL55

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Europe

Favorite Quote

God Damn It!

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/7/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Coconut Cake

Short Description

Nonprofit administrator and foundation executive Cleo F. Wilson (1943 - ) served with the Playboy Foundation for twenty-five years, and was advocate of civil rights, HIV/AIDS awareness and the arts.

Employment

Playboy Inc.

Playboy Foundation

Center of Intuitive and Outsider Art (Intuit)

Favorite Color

Light Green

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Cleo F. Wilson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Cleo F. Wilson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about her mother's move to Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about her father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Cleo F. Wilson describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Cleo F. Wilson lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers George Washington Carver Primary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the tension between her parents

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her foster mother

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her relationship with her parents while in foster care

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her schooling in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Cleo F. Wilson describes her early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her foster home

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the jazz band at Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers joining the protests against the Willis Wagons in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about the struggle for school desegregation in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls living in the Student Peace Union's commune at the University of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers meeting her first husband

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her associations with radical organizations

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls her criticism of nonviolent philosophy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the surveillance of her home by the Chicago Police Department's Red Squad

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls the assassinations of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers her first divorce

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls meeting her second husband

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls working as an accountant for Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the workplace environment at Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the history of the Playboy Foundation

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Cleo F. Wilson recalls her start at the Playboy Foundation

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the grantees of the Playboy Foundation

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Cleo F. Wilson remembers Harold Washington's mayoral campaign in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the Playboy Foundation's support for the arts

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about micro philanthropy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Cleo F. Wilson describes the Will Feed Community Organization in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about granting process at charitable foundations

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about her organizational activities

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Cleo F. Wilson reflects upon her career at Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Cleo F. Wilson reflects upon her success at Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Cleo F. Wilson describes Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about her interest in outsider art

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Cleo F. Wilson reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Cleo F. Wilson talks about her family

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Cleo F. Wilson describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Cleo F. Wilson narrates her photographs