By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.,
Special to the AFRO
There once was a president named Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) who was the first president in U.S. history to resign. There once was a hotel in D.C. named “Watergate,” where the president’s men broke in to steal secrets from his election opponents (the Democrats in 1972). But the five burglars were caught and traced back to Nixon and eventually, after intense media coverage, investigations and a vote in the House of Representatives which almost impeached him, Nixon was forced to leave office in embarrassment and shame on Aug. 8, 1974.
Also, the mighty would not have fallen, the burglars and the president’s top men would not have all gone to jail if a security guard had not done his job. But he did and they did and Frank Wills, a patriot, saved American democracy last time.
We need a Wills in these times as Donald Trump tries to steal America by hook and by crook. This time there is corruption, misinformation, lies, plotting and raw violence all used in attempts to steal power (yeah, a massive power grab on Jan. 6, 2021, including mobbing the U.S. Capitol—curtailed for the moment). Though back in the days of Mr. Wills, it was simply a burglary foiled by his findings of something screwy on the door of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters.
The thieving intruders left duct tape across the door lock to block it from closing and Wills, in his rounds as the security guard on duty that night saw the tape, removed it and called the police. And that was the very beginning of the end for the Nixon Administration.
Nixon, who had announced a ‘War on Drugs’ on June 18, 1971, was severely focused on Black and Brown people to fill up jails. He also presumably took away the rights of Democratic voters’ rights with the hope of helping Republicans win elections. His presidency began unraveling almost exactly a year later on June 17, 1972 with the discovery of the Watergate break-in by five men—two of them Cubans– attempting to plant a bug (secret listening device) in the Democratic Party’s National Committee Headquarters.
Wills, who uncovered the beginning of the scandal, was born in 1948 in Savannah, Ga., raised by a single mother and earned a GED in the Job Corps. He worked on the Ford Motor Company’s assembly line in Detroit for a while before moving to Washington, D.C. Eventually, at age 24, he got a job as a security guard at the Watergate Hotel in a luxury complex.
This Black patriot did his duty without a gun. He was outfitted for his security duties simply with a can of mace and his own good sense.
Wills discovered duct tape on the lock of a door that blocked the door from closing. He removed it during his first round of securing the building. When he returned a half hour later during a second round, he discovered it taped again. That’s when he called the police. With their help, he shut down all of the hotel’s elevators and began a room to room search of the building. The five ‘buggers’ were discovered in offices of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) headquarters.
The discovery that Wills made and reported was the beginning to a scandal that led to a historic resignation. For his incredible work, he received a $2.50 per week raise, but was denied the promotion he sought.
There were media appearances here and there for Wills, once the world realized what he had done. He appeared or was depicted in a couple of major motion pictures including ‘All the President’s Men’ (starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) and ‘The Post’ starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Spike Lee remembered Wills with heavy irony in his 2004 film, “She Hate Me.”
Wills, a man who should have been heralded as a great American hero, suffered a life of occasional joblessness and working class poverty up until his death in September of 2000. He died of a brain tumor at the age of 52.
Wills once said, “Everybody tells me I’m some kind of hero, but I certainly don’t have any hard evidence. I did what I was hired to do but still I feel a lot of folks don’t want to give me credit, that is, a chance to move upward in my job.”
The quote by Wills reminds me of the last stanza of the poem “Icarus” by Edward Field, “He had thought himself a hero, had acted heroically, and now dreamt of his fall, the tragic fall of the hero. But now rides commuter trains, serves on various committees, and wishes he had drowned.”
Wills was a Black patriot and like so many women and men who served selflessly in the military, served gallantly in hospitals during pandemics, teach in difficult inner schools, etc., his good deed did not go unpunished. But face it, America ‘ain’t got no shame.’
Thank you, Frank Wills. The poet Gil Scott Heron, in his song-poem, “Pardon My Analysis” said, “Pardon brother Frank Wills, he was only doing his job.”
Thank you, Frank Wills. We can never thank you enough for saving America 50 years ago. We could have used you on Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol.
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