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Willard Motley

AKA Willard Francis Motley

Born: 14-Jul-1909 [1]
Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Died: 4-Mar-1965
Location of death: Mexico City, Mexico
Cause of death: Illness [2]
Remains: Buried, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Occupation: Author, Novelist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The original Bud Billiken

Willard Motley was born out of wedlock, and as a child he was told that his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister. He was raised in a virtually all-white neighborhood in Chicago, where as a young teen he wrote a short story published in the city's leading black paper, Chicago Defender. He was offered a column for kids, becoming the first of several columnists to write as the Defender's famed "Bud Billiken". After several years writing as Billiken Motley quit the paper and, unable to afford college, he drifted across America before apprenticing in the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers’ Project. With the help of a Rosenwald grant, he was able to finish his first novel, Knock on Any Door, which dealt with a young man's drift into a life of crime. It was an immediate best-seller and the basis for the classic film with Humphrey Bogart. His 1958 novel Let No Man Write My Epitaph was a sequel to Knock on Any Door, telling the more optimistic story of the son of the first book's protagonist, and was filmed with an all-star cast including Burl Ives, James Darren, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Motley's work fearlessly tackled other social issues, but with the exception of a subplot involving interracial romance in Let No Man Write My Epitaph, race was rarely mentioned in Motley's novels. When asked about this he invariably replied, "My race is the human race". He spent his last years in near-poverty after the Internal Revenue Service attached his royalties for non-payment of taxes. Motley's "Bud Billiken" is the namesake of Chicago's annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic. He never married, but adopted a son while living in Mexico. Motley's uncle, who he was raised believing was his brother, was the painter Archibald J. Motley, Jr.


[1] Some sources list Motley's birth year as 1912.

[2] Intestinal gangrene.

Mother: Florence Motley ("Flo")
Son: Sergio López (adopted)

    High School: Englewood High School, Chicago, IL (1929)
    Coach: Football, Englewood High School, Chicago, IL (1929-30)

    Rosenwald Fellowship 1946

Author of books:
Knock on Any Door (1947, novel)
We Fished All Night (1951, novel)
Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1958, novel)
Let Noon Be Fair (1966, novel, posthumous)
The Diaries of Willard Motley (1979, memoir, posthumous)



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