Tribute to Mr. Charles S. Wiggins

Mourning the Loss While Celebrating the Life

On September 8, 2020 MR CHARLES STERLING WIGGINS celebrated his 103rd birthday with family and friends. At that time Mr. Wiggins was the oldest living member of ASALH. Just shy of entering his 104th year, on Saturday August 28, 2021, Mr. Wiggins entered his resting place instead. Though we mourn the loss with great sadness, we celebrate the life with equally great joy—the life of an incredible man, known as “Uncle Charlie” to family and friends, honored, loved, revered, and respected by all who knew him.

The Testimony of Mr. Wiggins

Interview with Mr. Wiggins by Alonna Carter
Aspiring Public Historian, Accomplished Writer, and Excellent Public Speaker, Historian for the Edna B. Mckenzie Branch of ASALH

“…We came by train,” Mr. Wiggins told me, “the train left Alabama and then came to Cincinnati—that’s a route. And from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh.” Traveling alone and unfamiliar with the North or any place outside of their homeland, relatives put written tags on the children’s clothing in case they got lost or separated. Fortunately, they arrived safely and settled in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.”

—Mr. Charles S Wiggins, 2019

Interview and Video with Mr. Wiggins (101 years old) by Dr. Stephanie Boddie, Scholar and artist of the Ethnographic Research Project, Unfinished Business.

Every day there’s obstacles out there. We have to say it’s going to take a lot more yet to overcome them. And I think education is number one because we got to know what’s going on through education to keep up with what’s going on. If you get behind it they’re not going to give it to you. I am not one of these smart people to learn all that. But there’s youngsters out there who are great. They’ll get it. Might not be in my time. But they’ll get it.

—Mr. Charles S Wiggins, 2018

This is just one of the stories captured from the new project, Unfinished Business: Pittsburgh’s Great Migration and the Movement of Black Lives. This project unpacks and showcases the untold stories of Black elders and the ways the distinctive history of Pittsburgh’s Great Migration (1916-1970) connects to contemporary Black social movements. This work leaves audiences to wrestle with the profitability of justice and their role to address our “unfinished business” of race.

​This work further highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of Blacks in Pittsburgh, as they faced persistent discrimination and systematic racism on the job in the city’s steel and iron mills, at the polls, and in everyday life. Thousands of elders migrated to Pittsburgh in two major waves before and after World War I from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. 

To Honor and Celebrate the Life

Mr. Charles S. Wiggins
1917 – 2021

Click images to enlarge

What the People Say about Mr. Wiggins…

“What a joyous day it is for me to be able to send birthday greetings to you—the oldest member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. God has blessed you with a long life, and you have in turn blessed us with your presence and service. As a veteran, a contributor to the welfare of Pittsburgh, and a member of the Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch, you are loved, valued, and remembered with sincere appreciation on this, your special day.”Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the ASALH National President, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier

With deep sadness and regret I inform you that ASALH oldest member in the United States of America, Charles S. Wiggins passed this morning after a long bout with illness. Mr. Wiggins would have been 104 years of age on September 8, 2021. What a treasure! He made the world a better place with the joy he brought so many. Our prayers and condolences are extended to the family of Mr. Wiggins. —Ronald B. Saunders, President of the Dr. Edna B. Mckenzie Branch of ASALH

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