If you haven’t caught the documentary For Gold and Glory on WFYI 1 Public Television, you might be unfamiliar with the story of Charlie Wiggins, the mechanic whom Indy 500 champ Bill Cummings credited for his 1934 win. In the early 20th century, Wiggins, an Indianapolis resident, came to be known as the “Negro Speed King” in African-American newspapers for his prowess on racetracks, and he was widely considered the nation’s best African-American racecar driver of the early 20th century. (He might have been the best overall, though he was barred from competing in segregated events, including the Indianapolis 500, because of his race.)
Wiggins’ legacy will live on at A Tribute to Racing Legend Charlie Wiggins, an event schedule this Saturday (May 25, noon) at the IPS Crispus Attucks Museum (1140 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St.). Wiggins’ niece and great-niece will be on hand at the ceremony, as well as notable African-American racers and athletes. The event will culminate in the unveiling of an exhibit honoring African-American racecar drivers.
Wiggins won the Colored Speedway Association Championship four times and took home three wins from its foremost event, the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The Colored Speedway Association was open to African-American drivers who weren’t allowed to participate in the segregated mainstream races of the 1920s and ’30s. Wiggins was also known for speaking out against segregation in the racing world and, as a result, was often the target of white supremacist groups, which once led to a well-documented confrontation with the Ku Klux Klan in Kentucky.
The Crispus Attucks Museum event will feature football legend George Taliaferro, the Indiana University star who went on to be the first African American to be drafted by the NFL; Willy T. Ribbs, who in 1991 became the first African-American driver to start in an Indianapolis 500 race; and local teen racing phenom Walter Thomas III, 2011’s Outlaw Track Champion.
More on Thomas here:
Although Saturday’s ceremony is free and open to the public, reservations are required. To RSVP, contact museum curator Robert Chester at 317-226-2432.
Wiggins image via blackpast.org; Ribbs photo courtesy IMS; Taliaferro image via bigten.org; Thomas image via Twitter.