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"For Gold & Glory" Transcript

NARRATOR TEASE:
During the 1920s, a group of African-American sportsmen raced through a cloud of segregation and hatred in their quest for the greatest prize of all…respect. Soundbyte off camera: “They recognized that they were on stage. They tried to show that they deserved increased rights and privileges in this community. And ‘Gold and Glory’ was part of that effort.” The true story of a forgotten sports legacy…For Gold and Glory.

UNDERWRITING CREDIT NARRATION: This program is made possible by grants from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway…by the Indiana Humanities Council…and by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

NARRATOR:
In 1991, Willie T. Ribbs became the first African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. His accomplishment was historic. And yet, it was only the pinnacle of a remarkably rich racing legacy that preceded Ribbs by nearly seven decades.

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
The Gold & Glory Sweepstakes was the race that belonged to the colored people. It was ours. There was truly glory attached to winning it.

JOIE RAY, Former Driver:
…And the people in these towns, I mean, all of us, we were treated like some of the biggest celebrities and heroes you’ve ever seen, because to them…the banks would close down the day of the race. The stores would close. Everybody would come out to the fair.

MILDRED OVERTON, Charlie Wiggins’s Niece:
The 100-Mile race was the only race that blacks could be a part of, because we could not be a part of the 500-Mile Race…

DR. RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
Indianapolis became a segregated city in the 1920s in a way that it had not been before, and to a much larger degree than it had ever been before. And it maintained that level of segregation for quite a period of time.

NARRATOR:
In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan cast a dark shadow over the social and political landscape of the Midwest. Popular entertainment venues like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were rigidly segregated during the decade. African Americans, Catholics, Jews and other groups experienced an intense type of prejudice rarely seen in the states north of the Mason Dixon Line. Yet, in the midst of this social unrest, a group of African American sportsmen, led by an unlikely hero, stormed full speed into the teeth of Jim Crow attitudes. They created a sporting event the likes of which had never been seen in popular American culture-a racing spectacle so grand it attracted the attention of national newspaper and newsreel agencies,
as well as thousands of spectators from coast to coast.

MILDRED OVERTON, Charlie Wiggins’s Niece:
Most of the black drivers from around the country would come when they had those races. And it was fun to be there, and to see…ha, ha…(:25)

NARRATOR:
Emerging from a cloud of dust came a group of black racing pioneers who faced real danger, both on and off the track, in their quest for the greatest prize of all…respect.

RICHARD PIERCE, Historian:
It had much greater weight to it than just a sporting event. They tried to show that they deserved increased rights and privileges in this community. And Gold & Glory was part of that effort.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
When you had something like the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes, this became a very important event. And indeed it became the Indianapolis 500 for the black population. And they tried to make it into a state fair, a revival meeting, an automobile race, and an annual convention all rolled into one. And they succeeded.

Title Graphic: For Gold & Glory
Open graphic - music stings

Font: The Adventurer


(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “The Negro Speed King.” That’s what they called him. All those people would come out to the Fairgrounds for those big races. And, my! Charlie always had something to show ‘em. Those folks were just crazy about him. Any wife would be scared to watch her husband carry on so. And I was scared for Charlie. But he wasn’t scared of nothin’. Charlie was the best. - Roberta Wiggins

(Highway Man intro music under graphix)

RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
Charlie Wiggins was a hell of a man. We could talk about Charlie Wiggins as a mechanic, his ability as a driver. We could say all those things. And without the pejorative function, without the sexist connotation, we have to say at the end of the day that he was a man.

Highway Man music full (:10)

NARRATOR:
In the 1920s, automobile production was an emerging industry. Indianapolis, Indiana, was one of the largest auto manufacturers in the nation. More than 250 different makes and models of commercial cars churned off the Indy assembly lines during the decade, feeding a consumer frenzy that grew rapidly across the country. The industry gave rise to entrepreneurs who welded sheer enthusiasm and mechanical know-how into exciting, new business opportunities. One of those entrepreneurs was Charlie Wiggins, a south side garage owner who was widely regarded as the city’s top auto mechanic.

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
Charlie was…he was an adventurer. He was a tough guy. But he was an athlete. And he was smart, and he wasn’t afraid to do something that he wasn’t supposed to do…ha, ha…

NARRATOR:
Charlie was born in a segregated neighborhood in the southern Indiana town of Evansville. He earned money by shining shoes on a downtown street corner, just in front of a local garage. The manager of the shop once asked if he could “turn a wrench,” and Charlie quickly and eagerly accepted a position as an apprentice.

DR. RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
I think he was as hard as his cars, you know. He was as hard as his cars. He’d be the kind of guy that if you were in a fight, he wouldn’t walk away from you. He’d stand by your side. And those guys are few and far between. Those folks are rare.

NARRATOR:
In 1923 Charlie and his wife Roberta opened a family-run garage in Indianapolis, where automobile production was in high demand, and automobile racing was in its heyday.

DONALD DAVIDSON, Auto Racing Historian, Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
You had very few state-of-the-art racetracks in those days. They were very rough…lots of holes, bumping and gouging.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
There were wooden rails all around, and if you went through those wooden rails, chances are you might get a wooden rail through you and through your car.

JOIE RAY, Former Driver:
Your body was exposed from the waist up. No roll bar or anything.

DONALD DAVIDSON, Historian, Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
They didn’t have seatbelts. Others would rather get thrown clear, because the cars were so sturdy that if you got into a flip, it was better to be thrown out on the first turn-over and land on the ground, rather than ride it out in the car. A race track would get so dusty that the only way you could follow your way around, you couldn’t see in front of you or around you, but you could look up and go by the trees and actually drive and when the trees turned, then you knew that you were in a turn and then just hope that somebody wasn’t in front of you.

RICHARD PIERCE, University of Notre Dame:
Racecar drivers, they were a combination of brains and brawn, which was the evolving definition of manhood. Brains and brawn, your ability to manipulate your physical environment, especially the mechanical environment, and then you have the mental, courageous aspect of getting in that car and doing it. In a way, they were the maestros of both.

Dip to black

Font: The Dawn of a New Opportunity

NARRATOR:
In 1924, Charlie Wiggins built his first original racecar from a heap of discarded parts at a local junkyard. He dubbed his creation “The Wiggins Special,” and tested the car on dirt tracks around the Midwest. Though he raced on raw, dusty surfaces, his speeds often equaled those of the fastest drivers on paved tracks like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the biggest and most popular race in the country, the Indianapolis 500.

Newsreel audio: At the Indianapolis brick track each year is conducted a major racing classic…and it had its thrills!

NARRATOR:
Charlie tried on several occasions to register his “Wiggins Special” at the Indy 500 and other races. In each case, the lily-white promoters of the American Automobile Association-the governing body of auto racing-enforced unwritten, but clearly understood, rules regarding minority participation in official, sanctioned events. They steadfastly refused to allow an African American to compete for racing’s greatest prize.

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
The best thing that the colored people could do at the 500 would be to do the picking up and cleaning up and maybe selling some pop and things like that, you know. But not to be a participant, and if they did get in, then they had to go to the colored section of the stands. So that was the normal behavior at that time.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: He just wouldn’t give up. Race after race, he kept on entering his car. And race after race, they kept turning him away. But he was proving a point. He was exposing their prejudice. The white drivers all liked Charlie, but those promoters would have nothing to do with him. Truth be told, I think they were kinda’ scared of him…the chance that a colored man might win their race? I think the thought scared the hell out of them. - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
The AAA pushed aside the young mechanic. But Wiggins’ efforts were not completely in vain. His vision and fortitude piqued the interest of William Rucker, one of Indianapolis’ wealthiest and most influential black citizens. A flamboyant promoter and contractor with a passion for politics and fine cigars, Rucker formed powerful allies among white politicians in the city and black civic leaders along Indiana Avenue in the heart of Indianapolis’ African American district.

PAUL BATEMAN, William Rucker’s Grandson:
Whenever he walked down the street, he’d have a cigar in his mouth, always. You wouldn’t see him without a cigar in his mouth. And he would wear, more or less, a derby hat. And whenever the women would come by, he’d call them “Miss” or “Mrs.”
Cut to Rucker CU from CSA organizers. He just knew everyone, and everyone knew him.

NARRATOR:
Rucker brought together noted businessmen and promoters from the black neighborhoods, along with two white railway tycoons who agreed to lend financial support. Together they formed an Indianapolis organization dedicated to promoting African Americans in auto racing. They called the group The Colored Speedway.

RICHARD PIERCE, University of Notre Dame:
There was a meaning to the association. It’s about what we display to a white community that we, too, can master this machine age, that we’re a part of the machine age, just like you are. We also have the bravery and courage to compete in this sport, even though it’s death defying and risky. And we have the wherewithal in our community to support our drivers. Whether you come and watch them or not, we’re going to come and support them. So that is a very significant set of statements and events that means so much more than the race drivers at that point.

NARRATOR:
The first act of the Association was to plan an annual racing event for African Americans the likes of which had never before been seen-a 100-mile test of speed and endurance to be held on a one-mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. Rucker had a keen sense for the promotional ballyhoo of the era. When he announced a date of August 2nd for the big event, he invited Chicago Defender journalist Frank A. Young, known for his bombastic writing style, to come to Indianapolis and report on the historic occasion.

(Narration) FRANK YOUNG: “July 1924…This auto race will be recognized throughout the length and breadth of the land as the single greatest sports event to be staged annually by colored people. Soon, chocolate jockeys will mount their gas-snorting, rubber-shod Speedway monsters as they race at death defying speeds. The largest purses will be posted here, and the greatest array of driving talent will be in attendance in hopes of winning gold for themselves and glory for their Race.” - Frank Young

NARRATOR: Young’s report inspired Rucker to christen the event The Gold & Glory Sweepstakes.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
There is this confluence of social change that came forth to produce this really interesting phenomenon called the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes. Black folks wanted to participate, wanted to be a part of the major social events of the day. And since automobile racing was extremely important, they wanted to be a part of that, as well.

(Narration) FRANK YOUNG: “August 2, 1924…This Gold & Glory event is the dawn of a new opportunity, another step forward, the brushing away of another barrier, another obstacle met and surmounted by our group in the realm of sports.” - Frank Young

March music full

NARRATOR:
On race day, the scene erupted into a menagerie of color, sound and pageantry. Fireworks, parades, daredevil stunt shows, and a crowd of more than 12,000
created an electric environment surrounding the world’s single largest sporting event ever held for African Americans.

MILDRED OVERTON, Gold and Glory Spectator:
I loved to hear the drum of the motor. It’s a thrilling sound, just like it is at the 500 Mile Race. Just to hear those motors racing. It’ll give you a kick, really…ha, ha…

LEON “AL” WARREN, Former “Gold & Glory” Driver:
They had a pretty good crowd, because that was the first time anything like that’d happened. And we couldn’t ride with the white boys, you know.

NARRATOR:
Al Warren was a pilot and delivery truck driver who competed in the early years of the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes.

AL WARREN:
It’s just kinda’ the love of the racing. I think it had to be people with an active spirit that wanted to be doing something, and I think that was it.

NARRATOR:
A rookie at the Gold & Glory event was Sumner “Red” Oliver, an auto mechanic from Dayton, Ohio.

SUMNER “RED” OLIVER, Former “Gold & Glory” Driver:
They had a large crowd. And told them, “I ain’t never drove in a competition like this.”
They dropped the flag for qualifying…I proved I was a driver that morning…That was the most exciting day I ever saw.

BONFIACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
“Pres” Rucker knew what he was doing. He knew that some day, there would be an opportunity for a colored person to race, hopefully, in the big race. But we’ll have to show them that we can do it ourselves first.

NARRATOR:
The most celebrated competitor of the era was Charlie Wiggins. Over the next six years, Charlie captured three Gold & Glory championships, and finished in the top five for ten consecutive years. His popularity inspired promoters in other cities to spotlight Charlie in black racing events throughout the Midwest, where fans wildly embraced the slender mechanic from Indianapolis.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
A hundred miles on a rough, rocky, dusty track is a long way. And it will tire out even the strongest of guys. And you had Charlie being 100 pounds and a wiry fellah. I tell you, that 100 miles must have been a real experience.

Font: “100% American”

RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
In the continuation of Gold & Glory, they had increased pressures placed on them by the rigid lines of segregation in Indiana.

DR. JAMES MADISON, Historian, Indiana University:
The place where this general intolerance has its most visible expression is the Ku Klux Klan. This is the period, this is the time, this is the place where the Klan achieved its largest and most powerful kind of activity. In Indiana, in Indianapolis, in the 1920s, the Klan became exceedingly powerful.

NARRATOR:
The Ku Klux Klan began its reign of intimidation and political manipulation in the Midwest in the early 1920s. D.C. Stephenson, a charismatic salesman and shameless self-promoter, brought Klan leaders and Indiana Republican party officials together in 1924 to promote a common agenda thinly veiled in Christian values and American patriotism. More than one-third of all white Protestant males in Indiana were members of the Klan by 1925. Hoosier recording studios pressed and distributed Klan records by the thousands.

1924 Klan recording sample: “That’s Why I’m A Klansman”
“That’s why I’m a Klansman, and where a Klansman’s mask. And raise my hand toward heaven, and shoulder the Klansman’s task.”

JAMES MADISON, Indiana University:
This roaring decade, this Jazz Age, becomes a time of great intolerance for some Americans, particularly for those native-born white Protestant Americans who create these “others” in their head, these Less Than 100% Americans, who indeed are threats to the life and the way of the American nation.

Sound effects - Marion lynching photos and haunting music transition

JAMES MADISON, Indiana University:
It seemed as though lynchings were a thing of the past, and here in the hot summer of 1930, two black teenagers are dragged by a white mob in Grant County, Indiana and taken to the courthouse square and lynched in a tree in the courthouse square-murdered by a mob of angry whites, who had believed that they had murdered a white man and had raped a white girl. That was the impetus. But the broader impetus, of course, was race, and the difference between black and white, and the fears that some whites had and the hatred that some whites had of African Americans. That was part of the spark of that lynching in 1930. It tells all black people that they’re not going to be guaranteed justice in this nation, in this place, as long as two black teenagers can be lynched.

NARRATOR:
In the state elections of 1924, Klan-backed political candidates swept all of the major contests in Indiana, including the Governor’s office. To celebrate, the Klan staged a political march down Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis’ African American district. Among the onlookers that night were Charlie and Roberta Wiggins, who had come to the Avenue to hear a jazz concert. The march sent a chilling message to Charlie and the rest of the crowd: The Ku Klux Klan was now the most powerful political organization in Indiana.

JAMES MADISON, Indiana University:
They formed neighborhood organizations. One was the White Supremacy League. And when a black family moved into a white neighborhood, a grenade was thrown through the window in that family’s home…a sign, a statement, a threat of violence and intimidation. Usually the intimidation was of words and coldness, of a hostile, cold welcome to make blacks feel uncomfortable. Occasionally it was stronger. Throwing a grenade through the window of a home of a black family is a very strong statement to a black family moving into a white neighborhood. (:41)

RICHARD PIERCE, University of Notre Dame:
It’s one of those side-by-side things. You have Gold & Glory coming into its infancy and trying to become a sustained endeavor. And you have Indianapolis forming rigid lines of segregation.

NARRATOR:
One target of the White Supremacy League was Charlie Wiggins. As an outspoken critic of segregationist practices at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Charlie and his family often found themselves directly in the Klan’s line of fire.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “One time they tore down the sign in front of the garage. Another time they threw rocks through the window. A time or two they hid in the bushes, two or three of ‘em. They’d jump out and attack Charlie when he went out. He’d fight ‘em off every time. He’d just get mad. But I’d cry. Ever try to get the blood out of your husband’s shirt? That was the worst thing of all.” - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
Harry MacQuinn, an Indy 500 driver and close friend of Wiggins, once entered a race in Louisville, and asked Charlie if he could drive one of the mechanic’s famed “Wiggins Specials.” Charlie agreed with the stipulation that Wiggins himself would drive the car during qualifications to test the engine and make mechanical adjustments prior to the race.

RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
What driver is going to let somebody else shake their car down for them? Not many. Most want to do it themselves. Charlie reserved that for himself. He said, “I can loan you my car. I’ll build it. I’ll fix it, whatever. But it’s my car, and I reserve the right.” And if you think about how difficult it must have been to negotiate that kind of relationship to another driver: “I’m going to take it out for its practice laps, not you.” That’s a temerity that not many blacks in the early 20th century had the ability, as Charlie did, or maybe the courage, which Charlie did, to pull off.

NARRATOR:
When fans at the Kentucky Speedway realized that a black man was driving the car during qualifications, an angry mob stormed the pit area, threatening to lynch the man behind the wheel. The Kentucky militia quickly stepped in and arrested Charlie for his own protection. At police headquarters, the captain filed a detailed report. For the records, the captain listed a reason for the arrest: “Speeding.”

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
The fact that Charlie was able to overcome not only very obvious and clear racial prejudice, and not only to succeed in his business, but to succeed as an independent businessman, to rise certainly to the top of the black racing league, and eventually to advise some of the top racers in Indianapolis, he had to be a man who was very strong internally, and really a heck of a guy.

Dip to black

Font: The Negro Speed King

NARRATOR:
By 1929, the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes was black auto racing’s crown jewel.
The circuit sponsored by the Colored Speedway Association had expanded from a small tour of midwestern cities to a national phenomenon.

LEON “AL” WARREN, Former “Gold and Glory” Driver:
We raced in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio. I mean, you just looked forward from one race to the next. “Well, when is there going to be another?” Or someone sends you an entry blank, you know, someplace, and you get ready for it. You don’t care whether it’s over in Illinois, Wisconsin, wherever.

NARRATOR:
Thousands gathered in each city to catch a glimpse of the colored circuit’s greatest attraction, Charlie Wiggins. The black press crowned him “the Negro Speed King.” And the genial garage owner from Indiana seldom disappointed his legion of loyal fans.

(Narration) FRANK YOUNG: “July 1926…’Wee’ Charlie Wiggins, that plucky young mechanic from Indiana, had to build a special seat in his chassis to boost his tiny body, so that he could reach the gears of his homemade creation. But at the end of this grand Gold & Glory event, it was not the mechanics that mattered, but the mechanic himself. As Wiggins crossed the finish line well ahead of the pack, a wild burst of applause greeted him from his home-towners, some of whom lost their heads and ran across the track, despite the yells from cooler heads, warning them that other drivers were still pushing their metal steeds at top speed for second place honors. In the end, no one was hurt, and Wiggins welcomed the stirring ovation.” - Frank Young

RICHARD PIERCE, University of Notre Dame:
The beauty of his cars wasn’t that they looked good standing still. It’s that they could perform. That was their function. They were built for that. And, by God, he built them! And that meant that he could sit in that cockpit and push that machine to its limit, it shows his mastery of his car and his craft, but also the mastery of himself.

NARRATOR:
Charlie often staged promotional stunts to arouse curiosity and attract more spectators to the track. One of his biggest stunts involved his wife, Roberta.

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
Had she lived at another time, she could have been a racecar driver herself. But even among black men, this was not something that a woman was supposed to do. But she was into racing. She felt it.

MILDRED OVERTON, Charlie Wiggins’s Niece:
She liked racing herself. And she was a good driver, very good driver. Uncle Charlie would often joke about pitting her against anybody who wanted to take her on…ha, ha…

NARRATOR:
Charlie’s biggest rival on the circuit was Bill Jeffries, a beefy Chicago bondsman and real estate broker with ties to noted gangsters and underworld figures. “Wild Bill” as they called him, would often show up for races wearing expensive coats and extravagant diamond jewelry. He was the antithesis of everything Charlie Wiggins stood for. At a Colored Speedway event in Cleveland, Charlie was about to raise the stakes in their annual rivalry, while raising the ire of the burly bondsman.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “I’ll never forget that race in Cleveland. There, in front of all those fans and reporters, Charlie told ‘em that he’d stake the race’s purse that old “Wild Bill” couldn’t beat me in a one-on-one heat. ME! …I mean, I’d driven Charlie’s cars during some warm-ups and all, but I ain’t never raced in competition like that. The papers called me ‘the Mystery Woman Driver.’ No woman had ever competed in auto racing before. It was quite a stunt. We had nearly 15,000 people come out that day just to see me get in that car. Charlie was just loving it, I could tell. All I could think was, “What in the world am I doing here?” - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
When race day came, the “Mystery Woman Driver” was the grand marshal at a parade prior to the big event. The summer sun was relentless that hot August day. As Roberta waved to the crowd, she paused to glance at her husband…then fainted. The doctors who examined her made a surprising discovery. Roberta was pregnant.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “I told Charlie I wanted to go on with the race. I didn’t want all those people to think that I was backing out on them. But Charlie refused. He thought it was too dangerous for me. I begged him, but he still wouldn’t let me race. I looked into his eyes, and I could tell he meant it. I drove a lap or two at the track by myself and waved to the crowd, but that was it. My racing days were over.” - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
A decade before this pregnancy, Roberta had given birth to the first of three sons, each born nearly a year apart. But before each child reached his first birthday, he contracted a severe form of tuberculosis and died in infancy. Unfortunately Roberta’s pregnancy in 1928 would also be heart wrenching. A month after her event in Cleveland, Charlie returned from his garage late one night to find Roberta doubled over on the floor with severe stomach pains. Blood was on the carpet. An emergency room doctor told the couple that Roberta’s health would not allow her to bear children. While his wife lay exhausted and sleeping in her hospital bed, Charlie took her hand, bowed his head, and cried. Years later, Charlie told a reporter, “I never feared danger of any kind on the track. But I feared for Roberta like nothing I’d ever known.”

Dip to black

Font: Charlie’s Gang

MILDRED OVERTON, Charlie Wiggins’s Niece:
He had a garage. And there were just many of the young black men and young white men who would gather there, because it was entertaining. They loved being around him. And, I don’t know, there was something about Uncle Charlie that would draw you in as a young person. And you just enjoyed being around him. And he had lots of young men that were there at the garage all the time.

NARRATOR:
They began arriving early every afternoon. Young men with a passion for automobiles would migrate to Charlie Wiggins’ garage nearly every day to share jokes and watch the master mechanic in action. They were known as “Charlie’s Gang.” All were brought together by an unquenchable passion for the sport and a deep respect for the man who gracefully and skillfully worked his magic under the hood.

LEON “AL” WARREN, Former “Gold and Glory” Driver:
I got to going down by his garage, just going down and watching them working on the race cars and things. Charlie was swell. Everybody liked Charlie. He’d take time to explain things to everybody.

NARRATOR:
One of the Charlie’s favorite stories revolved around another young man who often visited the garage. He was a teenager Charlie simply knew as “Johnny.” The mechanic and the young man shared many passions, including hunting, fishing, and, of course, automobiles. Charlie tested some of his cars near Johnny’s home in the country town of Moorsville, Indiana. Wiggins often invited the teen to come and watch him practice. Over the years, Wiggins lost touch with “Johnny.” One morning in July 1933, Charlie opened his morning paper and was surprised to see “Johnny’s” picture on the front page. The headline read, “Public Enemy Number One.” The eager young teenager with the passion for fast cars was the notorious John Dillinger.

** Dip to black **

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
It’s really a great American art form that is often not recognized…the great mechanical ability. And this was much, certainly, in the black community as it was in American society as a whole. Guys who worked in garages who just were always trying to invent “the better mouse trap.” And I think Charlie Wiggins, particularly, later on, proved that his practical experience was enormous.

NARRATOR:
One devoted member of “Charlie’s Gang” was Bill Cummings, considered a rising star at the Indianapolis 500 and other AAA-sanctioned events. Cummings first sat in a racecar in Wiggins’ garage. By the 1930s, Bill Cummings was one of the top competitors in all of auto racing. He was one of the favorites to take the checkered flag at the 1934 Indy 500. Stopping by Wiggins garage one day, he asked Charlie to serve on his pit crew. But the AAA would not allow Cummings to hire the talented black mechanic. So Cummings agreed to hire Wiggins as a janitor, which was the only job the Speedway allowed for African Americans. Charlie accepted the position and spent his days sweeping floors and taking out the garbage. Then, late at night, when AAA officials had left the track, Charlie went to work with Cummings’ pit crew to manufacture a finely tuned racecar.

1934 Newsreel: It’s race day in Indianapolis. Speed is king, and thousands are gathered here to see the cream of the world’s racing pilots and racing cars compete in this 500-mile classic…The race begins, and the pace car gets out of the way. Roscoe Turner waves them on. And with a full-throated roar, the race is on!..

NARRATOR:
On the day of competition, Cummings roared to the finish line well ahead of the field and captured racing’s greatest prize.

Newsreel Audio: Five laps…and still Cummings holds his slender margin of lead. And here comes the flag… “Wild Bill” Cummings wins! A great finish to one of the greatest races ever in Indianapolis 500 history.

NARRATOR:
Charlie was forced to watch the race from a “Coloreds Only” section of the grandstand. When the race was over, Charlie quietly returned to his garage.
But Cummings never forgot his mentor. For years after the 1934 event, he publicly recognized and thanked Wiggins, the man he called “one of the greatest mechanics I’ve ever known.”

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
I think there’s a kind of common experience in racing, the danger, the excitement of it, the mechanical skills required, the whole combination of things that make it such an exciting and attractive sport that transcended the racial tenor of the times.

RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
It supersedes race. And even in the early 20th century, when race was much more prominent and a larger hurdle, for these guys to overcome, it was for Cummings to come to Wiggins, because of the social conventions of the day, when Wiggins couldn’t go to Cummings in that way. Cummings had to come to him, and that was OK…Cummings was elevating the mastery of his craft, and he was able to do that with the knowledge that this guy provided.

** Dip to black **

Font: A Bad Premonition

NARRATOR:
It had been a long, difficult journey, but by 1936 Charlie Wiggins and the Colored Speedway Association had finally achieved their goal of creating a longstanding social event that celebrated the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of the African American population. That summer the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes was to be the grandest affair in the circuit’s history. Every major black newspaper in America sent reporters to Indianapolis to cover the event.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
The excitement level was extraordinary. Just to get the number of people out to these events that they did was an extraordinary achievement. And again, it was all planned that way.

NARRATOR:
It was the height of the Great Depression, and almost every major American racing circuit had gone bankrupt. But with the name of Charlie Wiggins, the Colored Speedway circuit’s biggest drawing card, on the marquee, fans continued to come out in record numbers and support black auto racing’s grandest event.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “I will never forget that day as long as I live. Charlie and I stood near the track before the race and watched all those people walking about. It was quite a sight, and I was very excited. But then, I can’t quite explain it, but I got this awful chill in my body. It was strange. I looked at Charlie, and he was all ‘serious-looking.’ I could tell he felt it, too.” - Roberta Wiggins

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
At the beginning of the 1936 race, Roberta, Charlie’s wife, said to Prez Rucker, “I don’t feel good. I feel like something is going to happen. I just don’t know. There wasn’t anything that she knew that would cause that, but she knew that something was going to happen.

NARRATOR:
During races on paved surfaces, the track requires little preparation before the race begins. Prior to dirt track events, however, it is customary for officials to spend an hour watering the track in an effort to keep down the dust and create a safer surface for the drivers. With the dirt track at the Fairgrounds watered and ready, the drivers of the 1936 Gold & Glory Sweepstakes took their positions at the starting line. But before the race could begin, a car owner from Chicago began to protest loudly to race officials about some questionable technical specifications in one of the other cars. A heated argument ensued over the next two hours, with several drivers, pit crew members and owners taking part in the shouting match. Charlie Wiggins simply pulled off his helmet and sat on the hood of his car with a look of quiet concern on his face.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “A lady next to me asked if Charlie was bothered by the folks arguing. But he wasn’t looking at them. He was looking at the track. It was drying out, you see. And the drier it gets, the more dangerous it gets. At one point while we waited, Charlie came over to me. He had had a bad premonition. He looked out over the track, shook his head, and told me, ‘Somebody’s gonna’ get hurt today.’ I cried and begged him not to go out there. But he just held me close and said, ‘You can’t ever be afraid. You have to face it. No, you can’t ever be afraid.’” - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
After two hours, they dropped the green flag, and the race began.

SUMNER “RED” OLIVER, Former “Gold and Glory” Driver:
It was so dusty you couldn’t see where you was. I had to feel my way through…
I heard the crowd screaming…BAM! Someone said, “There’s a wreck on the far end.”

NARRATOR:
The wreck sent one car airborne into the infield. Thirteen cars skidded out of control and slammed into a swelling inferno.

LEON “AL” WARREN, Former “Gold and Glory” Driver:
My car was the sixth car into the wreck. Now they had to take the steering wheel off me to get in the car. I don’t know how I got out of there so quick. But I got out there, jumped over the fence, and that’s when I heard Charlie yelling, “Take it off my leg! Take if off my leg.” So I tried to lift the car, and about that time, I looked back and heard the motors coming, so I jumped back there, and sure enough, it hit Charlie’s car and knocked it about as far as this with him hanging there.

SUMNER “RED” OLIVER, Former “Gold and Glory” Driver:
I jumped out there with Charlie, and that’s when that boy hit him…hit him sideways. Charlie went sideways…and it crushed Charlie’s leg.

NARRATOR:
Drivers, mechanics and distraught fans rushed to the accident. One by one, they pulled drivers out of the fiery scene. Breaking through the restraints of race officials, Roberta Wiggins dashed across the infield. Someone screamed, “He’s dead. Charlie’s dead.” Roberta fell to her knees as they pulled Wiggins’ limp, unconscious body from the wreck. Still clinging to life, Charlie was covered with blood. An ambulance rushed the racing great and several other drivers to a local hospital. Most suffered only minor injuries. Doctors only listed one driver in critical condition…Charlie Wiggins.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “They said, ‘Wait here,’ and they pointed to an old wooden chair. I sat outside that surgery room for hours and hours and never moved. Funny…There was all this activity at the hospital, but I don’t think I heard a thing. It was just kinda’ silent, like everything was standing still.” - Roberta Wiggins

NARRATOR:
Back on Indiana Avenue, the Gold & Glory gala ball was in full swing. The annual black tie affair attracted hundreds of partygoers, both black and white, and featured some of the greatest musical talents in America. But when word of Charlie’s condition spread through the crowd that night, few felt like dancing. At 12:30, race promoters commissioned a nurse to set up a makeshift table in one corner of the dance hall. They announced an emergency blood drive for Charlie Wiggins. Dozens of race fans quickly volunteered to help their fallen hero…At 2 AM, nearly 12 hours after the wreck, doctors emerged from the emergency room and stood before Roberta Wiggins…Her husband would live, but the wreck so severely damaged his right leg, they had to amputate.

(Narration) ROBERTA WIGGINS: “They finally allowed me to go see him. I held Charlie tight. He seldom cried, but that day, we both sat holding each other, and we cried and cried. Racing meant so much to Charlie. And now we knew that his racing career was over.” - Roberta Wiggins

* Dip to black *

NARRATOR:
The 1936 race not only marked the end of Charlie Wiggins’ career, but the end of the Gold & Glory Sweepstakes, as well. For twelve years the Colored Speedway Association overcame racial prejudices to create new opportunities for African Americans in the realm of sports. But in the heart of the Depression, without the league’s biggest attraction, attendance dwindled and profits dropped. Faced with crippling financial pressures the organization folded after the 1936 season.

** Dip to black **

Font: These Men of Grease and Grit

NARRATOR:
His racing career had been cut short, but Charlie Wiggins refused to give up on his passion for automobiles. Weeks after the accident, he returned to his garage. There he fashioned a wooden leg using a lathe in his workshop. For the next forty years, he continued to build and repair cars, training new generations of drivers and mechanics.

DR. RICHARD PIERCE, Historian, University of Notre Dame:
There are some people, and I think Wiggins is one, who can build a car and love it for that creation, but still push it, because in his own life, he realized that pushing yourself to your limit doesn’t endanger you. It’s what made you alive.

JOE FREEMAN, Auto Racing Historian:
Charlie really did break some ground. The fact that he was well known, and visited by important Indianapolis drivers and mechanics meant that he made, in his own way, I think, a very important, dignified statement of integrity about the black population and its place within automobile racing, and in society as a whole.

(Narration) FRANK YOUNG: “Of what will younger generations speak when they talk of the accomplishments of these great colored racers? Will it be that with heart and heavy-foot, they might become the fastest in the land? Or will it be that they did something far greater? For these men of grease and grit are a celebration of all that is grand for our Race. Let us hope that our children speak of the latter, for it is in this moment that we have achieved true greatness.” - Frank Young

BONIFACE HARDIN, Historian, Martin University:
It was a social event. And it was a great honor to be a part of it, because it was successful, and because the people who won these races were heroes.

RICHARD PIERCE, University of Notre Dame:
He was the best that we could be; just like Joe Louis was the best that we could be, just like Jackie Robinson was the best that we could be. Those people were our representatives.

** Dip to black **

Music and nature sound effects montage


Cemetery shot (push in) with font:
“Charlie Wiggins died in 1979.
Roberta passed away in 1998.”

“Charlie was hindered by a recurring
sickness brought on by infections to his
wounded leg. Yet, until the day of his
death, Charlie continued to train young
mechanics and crusade for increased
rights for African Americans in
auto racing.”

“Mounting medical costs left Charlie
and Roberta nearly penniless at
the time of Charlie’s death.

“He is buried here, in an unmarked grave,
at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.”


PBS.ORG OFFER NARRATION (during closing credits):
There’s more information about the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes available at PBS Online. Explore Charlie Wiggins’s career, go on tour with the drivers, and explore other aspects of civil rights history. To learn more, log on to PBS.org.

BOOK OFFER (during closing credits):
To order “For Gold and Glory” on videocassette, or the companion book to the program, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

UNDERWRITING CREDIT NARRATION (after the credits fade to black):
This program is made possible by grants from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway…by the Indiana Humanities Council…and by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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