Black History: Special Delivery!!
Charlie Wiggins was born in 1897 in Evansville, Indiana. He spent his youth shining shoes on in front of a car repair shop. Eventually he was given a job in the garage. He eventually became an apprentice. In 1917, he became chief mechanic.
After moving to Indianapolis in 1922, Wiggins started his own garage and began building his own racecar with salvaged junkyard parts. He wanted to race in the Indianapolis 500 in the car he dubbed “the Wiggins Special,” but the color of his skin made him ineligible to compete.
Wiggins and other African-American drivers decided to form their own racing league, “Gold and Glory Sweepstakes”, an annual 100-mile race for black drivers on a one-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The first race, in 1924, drew a crowd of 12,000 and was the largest sporting event held for African Americans up to that point. Over the next 10 years, Wiggins would win three Gold and Glory Sweepstake championships. His notoriety as a mechanic and racer and his bold actions against segregation in auto racing caused the KKK to target him.
During the 1936 running of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, Wiggins lost a leg in a 13-car crash. He made himself a wooden leg and for the next 40 years continued to build and repair built cars while training other drivers and mechanics. He also continued to advocate for African-American participation in motor racing until his death in Indianapolis in 1979 at the age of 82.
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