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Cleveland Black History Trailblazers: Alonzo Wright went from shoeshine boy to Cleveland millionaire

Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 08, 2022

CLEVELAND — All this month, News 5 is profiling trailblazers in Northeast Ohio Black History, beginning with Alonzo Wright, who went from shoeshine boy to Cleveland's first Black millionaire and the owner of nearly a dozen service stations in the early 20th Century.

A Black southern migrant, Alonzo Wright was born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, the son of Alonzo and Joyce Kelso Wright.

He worked as a shoeshine boy and a messenger before he arrived in Cleveland in the early 1910s, with just six cents in his pocket.

Alonzo earned his high school diploma at night while working as a teamster, foundry hand, mail-truck driver, and garage attendant at Auditorium Hotel for eight years, there meeting Sohio executive Wallace T. Holliday. Impressed by his work, Holliday arranged for Wright to become the first African American to lease a Sohio station, at E. 93rd Street and Cedar Avenue, the first Standard Oil station in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Customers were attracted by new services Wright offered: cleaning windshields regularly and offering free tire and radiator checks. By 1937, Wright operated six stations; he operated 11 stations before leaving the business in the mid-1940s.

Learn more about Alonzo Wright from Case Western University’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History here.

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