Charlie Wiggins was known as the “Negro Speed King.” He was an African American motor racing pioneer who competed in the segregated Midwest in the early 20th Century. He was also known for being a highly skilled mechanic during the time as well. Many white racing drivers often went to him when they had mechanical trouble with their vehicles.
Wiggins was born in 1897 in Evansville, Indiana. He grew up with his father a coalminer, after the death of his mother. Before becoming a great car racer, Wiggins worked as a shoe shine boy outside a car repair shop. He eventually was hired on as an apprentice in 1917. However, Wiggin’s big break came when most of the white mechanics were called off to serve in army. He then became the first black mechanic in Evansville and quickly gained popularity among people throughout the city. Soon, Wiggins married and left the city two years later. He opened his own mechanic garage along with his wife in Indianapolis. In his spare time, Wiggins assembled parts from auto junkyards to develop his own car, known as “the Wiggins Special.”
Wiggins later attempted to enter his car into an auto race, the Indianapolis 500, but he was blocked because he was black. However, that did not stop him; he and a few other black drivers decided to form their own racing league. They held races across the Midwest, and Wiggins always did outstanding in them, which later earned him the nickname “Negro Speed King.” Wiggin’s success soon caught the eye of many wealthy black residents of Indianapolis who later helped establish the “Gold and Glory Sweepstakes”, a 100-mile race for black drivers on a one-mile dirt path.
Wiggins’s fame and criticism of racial discrimination made him a target of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan which attacked him and vandalized his house on a number of occasions. Charlie Wiggins’ racing career ended in 1936. In the fourth lap of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes race, he was seriously injured in a 13-car wreck, losing a leg. Wiggins died in 1979 at the age of 82; however up until his death he fought for the rights for Blacks to race in the Indianapolis 500.
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