Sunday, August 2, 2009

Harry Wiggs Dies

Former Mississippi State Patrol Officer Harry Wiggs dies and leaves a dark, summer night behind him.
by Charlie Leck


On a dark night in the summer of ’64, Harry Wiggs, a Mississippi State Patrol officer, was on duty, with his partner E.R. Poe, and covering the 37 mile stretch of State Highway 19 between the communities of Philadelphia and Meridian.

Memorial Services for Wiggs were held yesterday in Philadelphia and he will be buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery in the community of House, just off Highway 19.
Wiggs was 24 years old on that awful summer night, 21 June 1964. His heart began to pound as he learned the details of the plot. He felt a catch in his throat and his hands got that clammy feeling. He wondered to himself if it was his conscience speaking – or hollering like holy hell – to him.

The two state cops pulled up near the town jail in Philadelphia and Wiggs rolled down the window of his patrol car. Wiggs looked over at the small, red-brick building and his stomach again rumbled loudly. He moved ahead to a small vacant lot and saw the station wagon that belonged to the civil rights workers. It was exactly where he had put it earlier in the day after driving it in from the highway where the county deputy had stopped Mickey Schwerner. Wiggs turned to his partner.

"Still in there," he said. "You really ready for this?" Poe shrugged and looked straight ahead. Wiggs saw the worry in his partner's face.

Daylight lasted late into the evening hours at this time of the year. Wiggs was wishing it would grow darker more quickly – blacken.

“They gonna kill those boys. Ain’t no question ‘bout it.” Wiggs was speaking to himself in the hushed whispers of the mind. “They gonna kill ‘em sure as shit!”

Poe, as if he heard the words clearly, nodded his head silently.

Wiggs moved their car ahead and turned back toward the highway. He drove south and pulled into the parking lot of Pilgrim’s Store, a Standard Oil gas station just a mile out of town. He sensed that his breathing was rapid. His tapped his palms on the car’s steering wheel. The police radio was silent. The night grew much darker.

Earlier on that day, Wiggs had helped the Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff, Cecil Price, pull over the station wagon driven by Michael Schwerner. James Chaney and Andrew Goodman were passengers.

Price’s little plan to get the boys into jail had worked smoothly. No pangs of conscience bothered Wiggs during those hot, daylight hours. This darkness was something entirely different, however, and he felt the evilness of the shadows growing thicker and thicker. Price was to release the three boys when it was fully dark. He'd tell them to head straight home to Meridian. Poe and Wiggs were to pull the boys over, to slow them down, and allow Price to gather his Klan boys and move south on the highway.

Poe was the one to see it. The station wagon rolled by on the highway and, as expected it was heading south. Schwerner was driving. He was moving at a conservative speed, so the wagon wouldn't attract attention. Poe grunted and Wiggs look over to the highway and saw the wagon's distinctive tail lights disappearing.

"Ain't goin' after it," Wiggs declared. Poe nodded his agreement.

Billy Wayne Posey, driving his red and white ’58 Chevy, pulled into Pilgrim’s and drove up alongside the police car and rolled down his window. Wiggs looked into Posey’s eyes and could tell he had been drinking. He could smell Posey’s nervousness and fear, even though Posey himself knew nothing of it. Three other young men were in Posey's car. They had probably also been drinking.

Posey wanted to know where Deputy Cecil Price was.

“Don’t know,” Wiggs said, shaking his head.

Wiggs didn’t like the state of things. There were too many men involved – loose lips and nervous tongues everywhere. Wiggs looked hard at Posey and smoothly put his automobile in gear.

“We’re goin’ north now. We ain’t stopping them boys. Count us out. Y’all stay outta trouble now. Hear?”

A Neshoba County patrol car pulled into the parking lot just as Wiggs and Poe were moving off. Deputy Cecil Price guided his vehicle up next to the state car and rolled down his window. He looked over a Wiggs.

“Y’all better move and get ‘em before they git to that county line.”

“Weein' is outta this thing, Cecil. Too much drinkin’ goin’ on and too many boys gathered for this here meetin’ anyhow. Too many witness. Too many to do talkin' later.”

Wiggs could see that the Deputy was not going to argue. He was running out of time. Wiggs felt himself hoping it was too late and that the plan would be dropped.

“Shit,” exclaimed the Deputy. He gave Wiggs a hateful glance and hammered the accelerator on the county patrol car. Gravel flew behind him and pelted a few of the pickup trucks that were gathered there.

Wiggs watched the tail lights of Price’s police cruiser disappear at a rapid speed, heading south. The state patrol car moved silently and slowly out of the parking lot and turned north. The patrolman looked down at the clock on his dashboard. It was 10:25 P.M.. In his rearview mirror, Wiggs saw Posey’s Chevy fire out on to the highway and head south at high speed. A pickup truck also sped on to the highway and turned south, following Posey.

The state patrolmen decided they would stay north on this evening and hover near Philadelphia. They'd make a few moving violation stops on the highway to establish their whereabouts and make sure times were carefully recorded. A bright colored Ford Fairlane sped by them, heading south. A young girl was driving it. Wiggs flicked on his flashers and made a rapid u-turn and headed south to stop the youngster right in front of Pilgrim’s Store. Wiggs slid from the driver’s seat and walked forward toward the Fairlane. Poe sat tight. The girl had rolled her window down and Wiggs could see fear in the her eyes.

“Miss, you were goin’ a bit too fast back there,” he said to the girl.

“I’m sorry, officer. I'm late gittin' home and my daddy won't like this.” The girl spoke directly to Wiggs, her eyes fixed on his. She had a wide, but nervous smile on her face.

“I’ll just write up a warning for you, dear. Now y’all be careful. Hear?”

“Yes, sir, officer. Thank you kindly.”

“Where you headed?” Wiggs felt a desire to keep this pretty thing out of any trouble ahead.

“I’m headed for House, sir. That’s where I live. My daddy gonna have a fit.”

“Okay, girl. Y’all go straight home. There may be a traffic stop down the highway a piece. You just drive ‘round it carefully. Hear? Don’t stop for nothin’ now. Straight home with y’all.”

Wiggs watched the taillights of the Ford move south. His stomach rumbled again and he knew he had to find a toilet. He looked over toward Pilgrim’s. The parking lot was quiet now. The heat of the night was heavy. He’d spend some time in the store and use the restroom. The two officers would hang around and chat some. At least ‘til things were over.

Wiggs moved back toward his car and cursed the darkness.

Harry J. Wiggs

PHILADELPHIA – Services for Harry J. "Bud" Wiggs will be held Saturday [1 Aug 2009] at 3 p.m. at McClain-Hays Chapel with Bro. Shayne Martin and Dr. Dan Howard officiating.

Burial will be in Pine Grove Cemetery in the House Community of Neshoba County with McClain-Hays Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Wiggs, 73, of Philadelphia, died Thursday, July 23, 2009, at Neshoba County General Hospital. He was born and reared in Decatur, and had made his home in Philadelphia since 1963. He retired from the Mississippi Highway Patrol in 1990. He was a member of First Baptist Church in Philadelphia and a member of the Philadelphia Masonic Lodge.

Survivors include his wife, Sylvia Posey Wiggs, of Philadelphia; son, Jay Wiggs and his wife Theresa, of House; grandson, Jacob Wiggs, of House; mother-in-law, Ora Reynolds Posey, ofHouse; sisters, Freida Thrash, of Dallas, Texas, and Ruth White, of Union; and sister-in-law, Kay PoseyHollimon, of Brandon.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Harry E. and Verla Wiggs, of Decatur; brother, William E. Wiggs; and a sister, Jane Walker.Pallbearers will be Richard Jones, Larry Walker, Larry Myers, Floyd Spears, Johnny F. Smith,Jimmy Craig, and Jacob Wiggs. Honorary pallbearers will be Jack Reynolds and Mike White."

[from the Meridian Star]

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