#2 Kevin Wiggins Interview
This is file # 44, cycle 3. Today’s date is July 15, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Kevin Wiggins for the second time. He is going to talk about his education at various schools in the area, his college experience and anything else he want to talk about. We’ll start with…
JM:What is your name?
KW:My name is Kevin Altonio Wiggins.
JM:Where were you born?
KW:I was born Oct. 14, 1966, at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Ct.
JM:Tell me about the neighborhood when you were a little boy in Hartford.
KW:When I was a little boy, we were just surrounded by everybody. We are all basically poor.
JM:Was it all black or racially mixed?
KW: It was completely racially mixed. We were all the same. It just seemed like a big family that was how everybody was.
JM:Were you teased at all as a little child?
JM:Was it malicious or friendly?
KW:It was both.
JM:I am using the word “race” in quotes. Did you talk “race”?
JM:But that was among yourselves.
KW:That was part of the teasing too. At the same time when we were home we were all the same, black. I am better than you. We lived right next door to each other.
JM:When did you move here to Lakeville?
KW: I think 1974.
JM:Why did your family move here?
KW:We moved here because my grandmother Ruth was already up here. She lived with Ernie Garnes who was her second husband. His family was already in the area. He passed away and my
grandmother didn’t want to come to Hartford any more. Hartford was going through that transition of getting worse. She did not threaten my mom, but she told her that she was not longer would visit her grandchildren in Hartford. So she put that offer out there and my mother said, “We’re going.”
JM:Where did your grandmother live?
KW:On #42 Bostwick Street in Lakeville, Ct.
JM:Is it the same house that you grew up in, is it?
JM:Oh it is right by the corner as you go up the hill. What school did you go to when you came to Salisbury?
KW:Salisbury Central when I was in second grade.
JM:Did you have any discrimination issues while you were at Salisbury Central?
KW:Very little I had encounters and it was obvious.
JM:There were other black families in town: Graves, some of the Warners, Booth, MacArthur, Parker, Shaw, Fowlkes, and Palmer.
KW:This is an interesting statement which I would like to put on my gravestone. Hartford was just a crazy place: it was a city. Things happened. Kids had more time unsupervised to get into trouble. There was lots of fighting, stealing lying and all that stuff. I did not know I was black or poor until I moved to Lakeville.
JM:That makes sense. You come from an environment what you are all the same, and then you move into a different area.
KW:Discrimination in this area happened; it only happened a few times and it was isolated. No one in a derogatory manner specifically told me that, “You’re this and you’re poor.” They were angry. In Hartford that was said and we all laughed. Here was the first time someone was angry about it.
JM:So it was the anger that was coming out.
KW:I did not understand that. It was the first time that I realized that I was black or poor because someone told me.
JM:Did anybody ever use the “N” word to you at Salisbury Central?
KW:The first time I ever heard it here in anger was in Lakeville. In Hartford it was just part of the conversation. (He told me in his talk session that a boy in his class used the “N” word and Kevin hit him. The white boy was suspended for causing a fight Ed.)
JM:The kids in this area when I was teaching didn’t have the experience with different ethnicity at that time so it was not necessarily directed at you as a person , but you are somebody different that moved into the community, Did you play sports at SCS?
KW: I did. I played soccer, baseball, and basketball. Mr. Fails made us play everything. Mr. Fails was the best gym teacher in the world as far as I am concerned.
JM:You stayed at SCS through 7th grade. Where did you go then?
KW:After Salisbury Central I went in 1979 to Indian Mountain School in Lakeville. I was there for 2 years. I graduated in 1981.
JM:The Headmaster was Peter Carlton. I am going to ask you about some of the teachers that you had at IMS. We’ll start off with Don McClanahan. He was your advisor wasn’t he?
JM:what did he teach?
JM:You had a wonderful story about the Bill of Rights. Would you tell me that again?
KW:I will. Don or Mr. McClanahan on the first day of class, he told us that we would get a quiz every Friday. There was a lot to learn and a lot of information. To keep us in line there would be a quiz every Friday period no matter what. We go used to that. After one semester of that h=we were completely used to getting that quiz every Friday, and a test every four weeks. So second semester we get back and he lets us all know that we have two weeks to prepare for a big quiz on the Bill of Rights. At that point we were not just individuals in the class; we had separate study groups that switched so everybody was involved with their learning, every student. It was pretty amazing. We came together and we were studying every chance because there was a lot of information. Every chance we were pushing each other, at lunch, on the bus to a sports event; we were prepared. That Friday comes and we are all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting, because we all knew and we were going to kill it. We were all going to get A’s. After a couple of minutes he’s teaching and five minutes goes by and he is teaching away all about the US government and stuff. After half an hour we realized we were not getting a quiz. Just before the bell rings, one of the best kids in the class raises his hand and asks the question. “Mr. McClanahan I don’t understand why we didn’t get a quiz today?” He simply said, “Guys this is the Bill of Rights and you guys are American citizens and you need to know this. You don’t need any test on this: you just need to know this.” That is how basically Indian Mountain was run.
JM:He was a wonderful man.
KW:To add to that Salisbury Central was just as good; it was just younger and different.
JM:Oh yeah one was not better than the other; they were both good. Tell me about Mike Brown. He taught Science. (See file #39, Michael Brown)
KW:Yeah, very well grounded guy. A little quiet, good teacher but he was not dynamic. He did not seem excited about his subject. There is a word that I can picture: he just didn’t seem excited about what he was doing. He was so smart; he knew so much. He just seemed blasé about it. He was a good teacher and I learned a lot.
JM:That is the important thing. I am now going to get to my husband Foster McMillen. He taught math. Tell me about that one.
KW:If you got a chance to be in his class, you are going to realize how important math is in the world. I mean from a guy who looked you were going to learn absolutely nothing; you were in for a big shock. Talk about no man left behind. He was a thorough teacher. I could talk forever on this guy. He made sure that you knew what was on the previous page before we went to the next page. He made sure that every single student knew what was on that previous page before we went on period. He was not concerned about the length of the school year. If we only learned ten pages, if was going to be ten pages that we knew thoroughly.
JM:He would use examples for application. You are a master carpenter; you use math a lot. There were other kids in the class that wouldn’t be using as much as you, but I am sure he taught so that it would be with engines or painting a house or something so that they could use it.
KW:He applied math to everything, every single thing. That is what keeps kids interested.
JM:I am speaking professionally. He was a very good teacher, but he could not follow one of my lesson plans.
KW:He brought math to sports, to engineering, to construction, to art: he just said it is all math. You don’t have to like it; you just have to learn it. He had that attitude, but we ended up all liking it because he made it usable.
JM:I think the kids liked him, for the most part. I am sure he was a disciplinarian, but I don’t think he had to worry about that too much. Not there.
KW:He set his rules the first day and he stuck to them and there you go.
JM:Do you remember his three rules?
KW:No I don’t remember them, but I do remember the Pythagorean Theorem and I do remember A square plus B square equals C squared. I do remember a lot of math.
JM:I learned about Archimedes Screws and Bernoulli’s theory of Inverse Proportion and a Mobius strip. We would have that at the breakfast table. Don’t ever marry an engineer. What did you play for sports?
KW:AT Indian Mountain I ordinarily played the same three sports that I had played at Salisbury Central – soccer, baseball and basketball. There I was able to play hockey.
JM:Is there when you started with hockey?
KW:I started with hockey with the Salisbury town team with the recreation program Peewees, and Squirts. Art Wilkinson was the Director. I think Cadman might have been the coach. We had a bunch of coaches.
JM:So you had been playing hockey for a number of years when you went to IMS. What kind of an atmosphere was there at IMS?
KW:It was very team oriented.
JM:We are not talking about sports, but everybody working together.
KW:Yes, everything. They separated the school into two different colors maroon and grey. Throughout the year there would be competing athletic achievement, academic achievement, and different plays. There would be plays put on by the maroon side and plays put on by the grey side so there was always a little friendly competition.
JM:Peter Carlton used to pride himself on knowing every student’s name, and if he didn’t know your name, he would give you a quarter.
JM:Did you ever get a quarter?
KW:No I never got a quarter.
JM:Now that you have graduated from Indian Mountain, did you value that education? Did it help you in life?
KW:It did. It was one of the best experiences that I have had. It is tough to put it into words because at Salisbury Central I got a chance to experience a private school education at a public school. That just came through the physical disciplining, the ability to stop someone in their tracks, get everyone’s attention, and in all of our time, it is not just about you! I was the last class in public school that got a chance to experience that. Going on to Indian Mountain I was already used to the discipline starting from Mrs. Franson. She was tough too. Coming from Hartford to Mrs. Franson, that was an eye opener. I though look at this tiny little woman. I am going run right over her. No you are not! Every teacher that I can think of at Salisbury Central was a good teacher.
JM:It was a good group of teachers then. Both Indian Mountain and Salisbury Central at that time were equal as far as discipline and rules and organization was concerned.
KW:Yeah and what we were learning. I was there for 8th and 9th grade.
JM:How about the racial mix at Indian Mountain. Were there a lot of Asian kids at that time?
KW:During my interview Peter Carlton was explaining the situation to my parents. He leaned forward and said “You son is a great kid for the school. I don’t know if you know this but this is a very lily-white school.” Racially there were 4 black kids, no Asians, and 1 Indian that I can think of.
JM:When did you get involved with the summer Youth Program (See File #2, cycle 3, Kevin Wiggins #1) from Indian Mountain or Salisbury School for Boys. That was a town organization.
KW: I was still at Salisbury Central when I first got involved with the Summer Youth Program.
JM:The first interview that we did you talked quite a lot about that, yet you said you made quite a lot of friends there that you would not normally associated with.
JM:After Indian Mountain where did you go?
KW:I went to Salisbury Boys School. I was there for two years. I repeated my freshman year.
JM:So that would have been 1982 and 1983. Was the atmosphere different there?
KW:Yeah, it was different. It was adversarial and it was basically just a bunch of unsupervised boys running wild. You know what unsupervised boys can do. Fighting, planning and scheming, stealing. It was worse than any project that I had ever been to. It was just as bad. I felt that I had to guard myself, just as though I was in a poor, black slum or something. It was a super- rich private school. They can be difficult.
JM:I think you said that there were three Headmasters in the 2 years you were there. We figured out Edward Ward, and Peter Dipple.
KW:There was another interim, but I can’t remember him.
JM:Tell me about Bill Beaner.
KW:Bill Beaner was a tough guy. He headed the French Department. He was one of the good teachers. He actually was very open to kids; he was there for the kids like the teachers at IMs or SCS. At the same time as he was walking by the seniors had some innocent freshman on to the Senior Carpet, he wouldn’t stop the boys beating on the freshman kid. He would walk right on by. I can laugh about it now, but it was not funny at the time. I was like this is a person with authority and he is letting one kid
get beaten up for no reason, just because he is a freshman. To some people it might seem race meant but it was anybody.
JM:Did you have Barbara Pogue for French? (See file #23, cycle 2, Barbara Pogue)
KW:I did. She was a great teacher of French. The best experience I had for a teacher at Salisbury Boys School was Susan de Melle.
JM:Would that be Walter de Melle wife?
KW:Yeah. She taught English. She also helped, tutored. She recognized any problem that a student might have while reading. She was the first teacher to recognize that I couldn’t read quickly. If I learned most from any teacher at Salisbury School, it would be her. She taught me how to slow down and not worry. It is OK. He can read this book in one day; it would take me three days. Don’t worry about it.
JM:What a valuable lesson.
KW:But that was it. If you try to read it in one day, when you get tested, you are going to get a 60 because you can’t comprehend it, you just read it. That is the assignment. I have to read 20 pages. I read 20 pages.
JM:That is not studying; that is not learning.
KW:Right. She got me to sit down with a dictionary and the book. She had a little machine that would go down and slowly expose each line. She took that time. I didn’t ask her for that. She was interested in helping her students.
JM:Was Salisbury School for boys racially mixed?
KW:Hardly at all I think we had 6 black kids, a few Indian kids and a few Mexican kids, but not many, no Asians except for one Japanese kid. Now they might have 40 black kids now which is just fine and a lot of Asians. It is the same with Hotchkiss: there are black kids everywhere. There are Chinese kinds everywhere. Now it is almost equal numbers through out every race, including Indian Mountain.
JM:How about Carl Williams, he taught Math.
KW:Tough Carl I think Carl loved Math more than his students, that is for sure. It was Math and his dog.
JM:What about skiing and canoes? (See tape #111A, Carl Williams)
KW:He loved skiing too. I don’t have much to say about him, Carl Williams.
JM:The story that I heard about him was that he would put formulas on the blackboard and as soon as he got to the end, he would erase them.
KW:Right away. He was not a fair teacher. It is awful because I had so many good teachers before that. All the teachers at Salisbury Central, every single one of them were very good teachers, every single one of them: history, math, science, art, gym. They were all GOOD teachers. Indian Mountain they were all good teachers, they might have done some bad things when the sun went down. At Salisbury School there were a lot of people who were just there to get a paycheck.
JM:What about Mr. Eads, what did he teach?
KW:He was a history teacher. He was a really good teacher. He reminds me of Mike Brown. He was quiet. He didn’t seem excited about it. When you are excited about something, you are going to try to get other people excited by the stories. So you have a time line of stories on both sides to put things in perspective. It was just information, memorize it, and a test on Friday.
JM:That is boring.
KW:It surely is boring like that. It was just a list of facts and time lines, dates and names.
JM:Not the way I would want history to be taught.
KW:Other than that he was a smart guy, but just couldn’t convey it. There were a lot of us falling asleep. We were bored.
JM:You engage the brain, and the kids aren’t bored.
KW:That is true 100%.
JM:What sports did you play?
KW:At Salisbury I played soccer, hockey, and baseball.
JM:Did you run into any discrimination when you were playing sports at Salisbury School?
KW:I did. But it was not with the students, but only the coaches who were our teachers.
JM:Youi had a story about hockey particularly. You have been playing hockey for years, but you were not put on the varsity team simply because of the color of your skin.
KW:I overheard the two captains arguing with the Head Coach on the very last day of the last cuts. I got to the gym early because I was told by both captains that I had nothing to worry about. I was the first on the ice, ready to go, and I overheard loud arguing. All I needed to hear was the Head Coach saying,” Salisbury School is not ready for a black hockey player.” I heard my two captains really going to bat for me. They were upset. One was an Italian. At that time Italians and blacks didn’t get along too well, but I had an Italian kid going to bat for me. I also had Yerky Hakinan.
JM:That is a Finnish name.
KW:In his country they only had pictures of black people and this kid was going to bat for me like he was Martin Luther King’s son.
JM:He was looking at merit of the case, not the color of your skin.
KW:That was it.
JM:That says a lot about the boys.
KW:It does. I did not leave the school because of my friends. They were upset that because of my situation. They did not want me to leave. I wasn’t motivated to learn anything. I have a busy mind, a hunger to learn and a hunger for discipline. So I finished my last two years in Housatonic.
JM:Did you find any value in the education that you received at Salisbury School?
KW:You know it was downhill. There were some teachers who were teaching; it was literally half and half. One of the math teachers I had there was a good one. He was the king of mnemonic devices, but as far as I was concerned I couldn’t get my mind off that other situation.
(In our earlier discussion of this Kevin said that Chiz Chandler had really turned the school around in a very positive ways See file #90, Chisholm Chandler)
JM:You went to the high school. Who was the Principal at the high school then?
KW:Jack Mahoney. That was in 1984.
JM:Do you remember any specific teachers there who were good teachers?
KW:At the high school Keith Bond a great math teacher who cared about his students. That’s for sure. He was a disciplinarian; he was tough. Marjorie Rote was a French teacher, a great teacher.
JM:Did you have Dave Bayerdorfer?
KW:I did. I had him for Current Events; I guess you could call it history. It was mostly about Current Events. He was pretty good.
JM:Did you still play the same three sports at Housy?
KW:Housatonic did not have hockey, but I played soccer, basketball, and I tried track.
JM:You have good long legs for track.
KW:I only played baseball socially up until that point. I would play baseball with at least a dozen of my friends. I was competitive, but not enough to make the team. I wanted to be with my friends. At Housatonic I had a choice. I made a few people upset because I didn’t play baseball. Apparently I was pretty good. I figured I might as well just run.
JM:Did you get any medals for track?10.
KW:I broke the quarter mile record that stood for thirty years.
JM:What was the atmosphere at Housy?
KW:It depended upon who you hung out with. I hung out with the college bound kids; it was pretty close to private schools with those kids. We had study groups, but at the same time you had the kids who partied all the time or were lazy.
JM:Water seeks its own level. There were different levels there. Did you feel there was a value to that education?
KW:Well, negative only because what I got from second grade at Salisbury Central to 9th grade at Indian Mountain, I had learned so much. The French was so intense at Indian Mountain that when I go to Housatonic, I was taking my 6th years of French. The two years at Indian Mountain I already knew how to conjugate verbs. I already knew the grammatical part of the language. They were still doing that in French 6th.
KW:I told you about Susan deMelle and her extra help for me. There wasn’t much of that at Housatonic. The help ended in the class room. If you could get it in the classroom, you were ok, but after class you were in trouble. There were guidance counselors, but they were not tutors.
JM:You went on to college.
KW:I did. I went to Clark University in Worcester, Mass. and got an Associate degree in Economics. I did three years and then walked away and got into construction. (See file # 2, cycle 3, Kevin Wiggin’s #1)
JM:Did you run into discrimination there?
KW:Not at all. Only amongst black people because I came from such a diverse background, when I got to college, most of the black kids were inner city raised there. When they saw me hanging out with white kids, Jewish kids, Indian kids, black kids, yellow, purple, whoever. Who does he think he is? They did not know what to think of me because I was inclusive. If you were a food person, we can have fun and we go from there. I don’t care if you are good looking, or not good looking, but if you are a good person, we are going to have fun.
JM:Anything you would like to add to this before e=we close?
KW:I think we have about covered it.
JM:OK Thank you so much.
KW:It’s been a pleasure.