Community Leader Spotlight: Mr. Charles Richard Wiggins~ Educator and Veteran
For Black History month we shine a spotlight on a very special community member who for years tirelessly helped grow and care for the minds of Marion County youth, Air Force veteran and retired teacher Mr. Charles Richard Wiggins.
Mr. Wiggins was a student at McReynolds High School from 1st to 12th grade. Upon graduation in 1951 he was drafted into the army to serve during the Korean War. However, the education he received from McReynolds and his stellar grades enabled him to be transferred to the air force. After basic training, he was sent to Fort Belvoir outside of Washington DC for engineering school.
As a student Mr. Wiggins felt the teachers at McReynolds truly prepared him and his classmates in academics and vocational subjects to better their futures.
“The teachers really cared about us students. They pushed us to take a wide range of classes to help us be ready for the world outside of school,” said Wiggins. “Back then not very many boys took typing, but one of my teachers and I thought it would be a useful skill for me. That skill served me well while I was in the air Force stationed in Alaska. On the first day they got all 70 guys together to give assignments. The first thing they asked was “Can anyone type?” and out of 70 guys of different races, I was the only one to raise my hand. I was the who got the warm office job and didn’t have to work in the gruesome cold, all because of a skill McReynolds gave me.”
Mr. Wiggins served 4 years of active duty and 4 years inactive duty during which he went to college at Tennessee State University (then called Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College) on the GI Bill. He received a teaching certification in Math and History. However, Mr. Wiggins did not think he would always be a teacher.
“When I was young, I had to work after school – we didn’t have a lot of money. I worked in a small general store and every day the local lawyers would come into the store dressed really nice and talk about their cases. They really impressed me,” said Wiggins. “I thought that I might want to be a lawyer or a business man. But as a student, after we had a class, people would ask me to help them with their homework, and I must have been good at it because they kept telling me that I would be a good teacher. My older sister was a teacher, and my older brother had a career in the military, so I followed my brother’s advice about serving in the Air Force, then followed my sister into teaching.”
Being able to teach at his Alma Mater and to give back to a community that gave him so much, meant the world to Mr. Wiggins. He found his passion in teaching. Wiggins felt that providing a safe space where kids could feel loved and cared for was important for them to truly be able to learn and grow.
“Teaching is a calling; not just a job,” said Wiggins. “You have to care about the students and want to do the best for them. There are a lot of long hours and some of them difficult and not much money in it. You are never going to get rich as a teacher. I loved my students, and they could tell. If you are always losing your temper, they can sense that you don’t really like what you are doing. I used to even give them a pat on the back when they were doing a good job.”
Mr. Wiggins taught from 1959 to 1965 at McReynolds. While at MHS, he served as the teacher sponsor for the school newspaper. The articles ran in the Hustler. After McReynolds School burned, Wiggins taught Math at South Pittsburg High School from 1965 to 1987. He was the first African American teacher at SPHS during integration.
“I haven’t ever regretted becoming a teacher,” said Wiggins. “I thought it was an honor and privilege to have the parents entrust their children’s well-being and education to me. I loved my students and hopefully they loved me.”