Eddy Wiggins – The Lost Historian

18 August 2022 — Blue Lion Films

“Eddy Wiggins: Le Noir et Le Blanc”

[It’s unlikely that you’ll ever find this stunning book, unfortunately, I’ve tried, I was lent a copy by a friend. It’s an incredible document of the most beautiful photographs of African-American musicians hanging out in Paris in the 1950s. Absolutely stunning! The photographer, Eddy Wiggins almost completely unknown. B]

Eddie Wiggins

Recently a friend introduced me to an incredible book. Printed in French, and unknown to many, “Eddy Wiggins: Le Noir et Le Blanc”, is a loving tribute to a man who captured African Americans in Paris, Gilles LeRoy, published a beautiful book of photographs that would have been lost forever. Lost, like the history of this man who documented so many incredible moments of African American’s in Paris.

Eddy Wiggins in Paris

Eddy Wiggins was born in the Jim Crow South in 1904 in Mississippi. It was a time of racial violence against blacks by white supremacists, but also important gains for African Americans. In 1904 Mary McLeod Bethune that today is known as Bethune-Cookman University, while Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, the first Black psychiatrist, was heralded as a pioneer in Alzheimer’s disease research. There were many other significant first, but there was far more violence.

At the age of eighteen, Wiggins took off for Chicago hoping to escape the violence in the South and sought to work odd jobs. But by 1933 fed up with the lack of opportunities, and racism that also existed in the North, he left for Paris, never to return.

In Paris he worked as a journalist for various American magazines, serving as a jazz correspondent. This gave him access to all the legendary artists from America and France. He was able to engage with them backstage in concert halls such as the Olympia, or during more casual moments at dinner, bars or the home of friends. He captured, the spirit of freedom experienced by African Americans in Paris far from shores of segregation in America.

Louis Armstrong at Haynes Restaurant (LeRoy Haynes in white tee-shirt)

But while he was able to capture and document the history of African American freedom in Paris, his own history seems to have faded into the past. In his later years Eddy, almost blind, lived in solitude and poverty.

Denis Trinez, a Trinitarian priest and Member of the Association of the Little Brothers of the Poor, cared for him until his death. Denis maintained possession of Eddy’s pictures and prints a collection which represents the essence of his work. The collection was given to the Atelier des Épinettes, which Denis Trinez had founded to help AIDS patients. Now part of BASILIADE Eddy’s collection was published in a book published by Naïve, “Eddy Wiggins: Black and White”, with a preface by Gilles Leroy. Sale of the book helps to raise funding to support BASILIADE. Ironically the photographic work in the BASILIADE collection is all the remains to tell the story of this African American genius who captured the spirit of freedom in Paris far from discrimination in the United States. Now his work helps others who are often alone and in poverty as they fight against AIDS and the stigmatization it often brings upon them. We may not have much of his history before his death, but he lives on in the aid his photos provide for others.

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