by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned exclusively that World War II Veteran Charles S. Wiggins, who many called the “consummate warrior” who “found goodness in everybody regardless of their occupation, regardless of their station in life,” died on Saturday, Aug. 28 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Aspinwall. He was 103.
Known mostly as “Uncle Charlie” to his family and friends, Wiggins migrated to Pittsburgh from Alabama as a child. He later attended Rose Street School, Herron Hill Jr. High, and Schenley High School,. where he ran track and graduated from in 1937.
Wiggins was drafted into the Navy in 1944 and served mainly in a hospital unit in Dublin, Ga., tending to wounded soldiers, according to a 2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.
In an interview on WQED-TV with Chris Moore, Wiggins said that when he returned home to Pittsburgh after the war, there were very few opportunities for him. Wiggins became the first Black watchmaker in Pittsburgh, “but I couldn’t advance with it, because they wouldn’t accept me,” Wiggins said on WQED.
He later got a job at the post office, and made watches at home and at the post office.
“We have to take what we get here and make a good life out of what we receive, so don’t give in, don’t give up,” Wiggins told Moore on WQED. “Keep plugging, and keep moving, and good things have to come out of what we end up with.”
“He was an extremely gentle, pleasant person who saw the good in everybody,” said Carol Koshal, Wiggins’ niece, in an interview with the Courier on Tuesday, Aug. 31. “He was generous, always giving a helping hand. He didn’t believe that people would do him wrong. He believed people were good. He never saw a negative side in people.”
Wiggins was one of the founders of a sportsmen’s club in the Butler area so that he and other African Americans could safely hunt and fish, Koshal said. She said Wiggins also loved being a part of ASALH, or the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Pittsburgh branch. “Being a walking historian, due to his experiences, he fit right in,” Koshal told the Courier.
ASALH Pittsburgh’s president, Ronald B. Saunders, called Wiggins the “consummate warrior. He never let anything phase him whatsoever. He never had an unkind word to say about anything.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers were among the many organizations that honored Wiggins over the years. He met many players in 2017 to celebrate his 100th birthday, received a custom-made Steelers jersey with the number 100, and announced a draft pick for the Steelers the following year.
Saunders said until Wiggins’ passing, he was the oldest member of ASALH in the country. “He lived a fruitful life and gave back to his community,” Saunders said. “He didn’t shift according to the weather. Mr. Wiggins was always one positive brother.”
Wiggins’ funeral will be held at Church of the Holy Cross, 7507 Kelly St., Homewood, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. His viewing is scheduled for the same morning, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Kashol told the Courier that Sept. 8 would have been Wiggins’ 104th birthday.