The Story of Willie Lusk, Jr.

Willie Lusk

Willie Lusk

Willie Lusk was a skilled and revered bootmaker with a compelling story. His artistry and attention to craft drew wearers and admirers from across classes. He was an African-American craftsman and entrepreneur within a challenging time.

Born April 7, 1914 San Angelo and died July 3, 1976 in Lubbock

Lusk began working as a shoeshine boy at age 12 in N.A. Brown’s Boot Shop in San Angelo. It was there he learned to craft and repair boots from Frank Urban, a Czech immigrant, earning about $1 per day.

When N.A. Brown sold his San Angelo business to his brother, E.E. in 1934, he suggested that Lusk be hired in his Lubbock-area shop. Lusk would become foreman. Given the era, it was unusual to have a Black man in the supervisory position of manufacturing quality among-and-over a largely white workforce.

Lusk began developing his unique style and cultivated a following for his hand-crafted boots. One customer, noted gambler Bennie Binion, became a close friend and business partner. It was Binion who helped Lusk open his own shop at 1706 Ave. A in Lubbock, in 1946.

Lusk married Mildred Kavanaugh in Lubbock in 1940. They would have three children Kevin, Karl, and Linda Marie. Lusk, an imposing figure at 6’6’, is remembered equally as gentle-hearted, and at foremost a family-man. His children often played at the boot shop, where employees would make doll clothes for his daughter from leather scraps. While his own education was cut short in order to earn a living, Lusk wanted more for his children. All three would graduate from college.

Lusk died, July 3, 1976. In June of 1975 he completed the Bicentennial boots on display in this exhibit, made for Binion’s granddaughter Mindy, but was too ill to finish the last pair of boots he was working on, a similar Bicentennial pair of boots for Binion. He is buried in Peaceful Gardens Memorial Park in Woodrow. A Lubbock park named for him is located at East 25th Street and Oak Drive.

Bennie Binion

Bennie Binion, a Dallas gambler, and owner of the Las Vegas Horseshoe Casino was a frequent customer of Brown’s Boot Shop in Lubbock and had to wait his turn to have boots made by Willie Lusk. Frustrated with the long wait, Binion asked Lusk why he did not have his own shop. Lusk replied that he did not have the $2,500 necessary to create a business. So, Binion put up the needed cash and more.

Lusk made an estimated 160 pair of boots for his many Vegas connections and Hollywood celebrity clients including Shirley Temple, Chill Wills, Audie Murphy, Robert Taylor, Ronald Reagan, Betty White, Merle Haggard, and General Omar Bradley.

Binion also helped Lusk expand his business. In 1952, the Lusk shop expanded into a building that included a large display window, with western style furniture and shop displays around the walls, including an expanded office and workshop.

In 1958 Lusk fell behind in payments and taxes. He sold the property to Binion for $10, with an agreement that the owner would pay the unpaid balance of an existing $10,000 debt, as well as, pay existing delinquent taxes. Lusk would continue as a premiere bootmaker but within his shop, now leased. It is likely Binion took his share of the shop’s profits and possibly owed rent payments in boots for himself and others.