By ANDREW HOLZMAN
Hyde Park Resident Carl Wilson will be 100-years-old on Sunday. Wilson, once an auto mechanic making a modest seven dollars an hour, bought his own factory in the 1970s, becoming one of the first Black men in Chicago to do so. Though Wilson could brand his story as a self-made-man success, or call himself a triumph of the civil rights era, he seems to see his life as the simple product of hard work.
Wilson said his character was shaped by his father, who taught him “responsibility.” Yet when Wilson was just 14, his father died after travelling from Evanston to the South Side, where the nearest hospital which would admit Black patients was located. This experience galvanized Wilson, who committed himself to getting “as much education as possible.”
After taking up night classes in engineering at Northeastern University, Wilson was called into service in World War II. He served for three years in the South Pacific. Although the Chicago he came back to remained deeply divided by race, Wilson quickly sought employment.
“I don’t want to be the kind of guy to wait until someone gives me something — I’ve always had a little job,” he said.
Eventually, while Wilson was sitting with friends at a small South Side club, the tables turned. One of his friends pointed out that he didn’t know of any factories run by Black managers in Chicago. The team sent letters to major car manufacturers looking for backing, and eventually set up a metal stamping factory which made parts for Ford.
“The first hundred years were the best,” said Wilson, who is still able to walk — without a cane — and drive. As for his birthday plans?
“I’m letting them do the planning,” he said of his family and friends.