Little Known Black History Fact: Charles Wiggins

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  • Charlie Wiggins, a.k.a. the “Negro Speed King” was the first black man to win a major racecar competition in America. The shoeshine boy from Evansville, Indiana shined the shoes of an auto repair shop owner, who, in turn, made him the best mechanic in the town of Evansville. Young Charlie could tell what kind of car was coming down the road just by hearing the engine. With growing car production in Indianapolis, Wiggins uprooted his family, moved to the new city and opened a garage. Many of his customers were drivers of the Indianapolis 500.

    Wiggins would build “The Wiggins Special,” his own special race car. The ride was rejected by the Indianapolis 500 many times. White owners loved his car, but racial ignorance of the 1920’s kept "The Negro Speed King" off the major tracks. He lived during a time when southern Indiana racism was at its height and members of the KKK dominated the city.

    Frustrated, the black drivers formed their own league and started competing. Wiggins won many races, earning the name, “The Negro Speed King.”

    Riding on a makeshift dirt track, the only way for the drivers to see was to look up and follow the trees surrounding them. When black businessmen got wind of the competition, the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes event was born. Wiggins won four of the races.

    Unfortunately, he also became a target of the KKK. They often ransacked his garage and threatened his life. It wasn’t until he took a secret job as pit crew for white driver, Wild Bill Cummings in 1936, that he set foot in the Indianapolis 500 speedway. That same year, however, Wiggins suffered an amputation after a 13-car wreck in the Gold & Glory, which ended his driving career.

    Wiggins, former champion driver, dedicated his time to teaching black mechanics until his death in 1979.
     

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    One thought on “Little Known Black History Fact: Charles Wiggins

    1. That is amazing. He made his own car. That is special. He was very creative and willing to learn. He had a gift. Good for Charles Wiggins.

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