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Wed, 02.04.1948

Frank Wills, Security Guard born

Frank Wills

*Frank Wills was born on this date in 1948. He was a Black Security guard at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.

From Savannah, Georgia, as a teenager, Wills moved to work at the Chrysler factory in Detroit, but Chrysler made him redundant during the 1968 recession. At the suggestion of fellow workers, Wills decamped to Washington. Still, as a 21-year-old black, he struggled to scrape a living when dozens of major cities, including the capital, erupted in race riots that petrified white employers. Yet by the summer of 1972, he had secured a steady job as a security guard at the Watergate office complex, though only at the statutory minimum wage.

He was a principal player in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. On duty on June 17, 1972, he noticed a strip of tape holding a door unlocked. He removed the tape, and when he later saw another piece of tape in its place, he became suspicious and called the District of Columbia police. The unlocked door led to the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Inside, police found a group of burglars, some with electronic bugging equipment. The burglars had ties to the Committee to Reelect the President (Nixon) and thus began the Watergate scandal that 22 months later forced President Nixon to resign.

Though Wills played himself in the movie "All The President's Men," which told the story of the Watergate scandal, Wills never recovered from his moments of fame. After his part in history, he quit his job as a security guard because he did not receive a raise for discovering the burglary.

Wills worked for the comedian/activist Dick Gregory, lived in the Bahamas, and had a Harry Nilsson album dedicated to him. He made some money on the talk show circuit but could not maintain a steady job. He returned to South Carolina in the mid-70s and cared for his stroke victim mother for several years.

He was convicted of shoplifting in 1983. After she died in 1993, he was so impoverished that he washed his clothes in a bucket until James Kilby founded an organization, Treat Every American Right (TEAR), to raise money for Wills.  Frank Wills died penniless from a brain tumor on September 27th, 2000.

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