At the dedication of John A. Ferguson Senior High School in 2004, then-Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Merrett Stierheim said: “How appropriate that this school is named after a gentleman who is not only a pastor and a man of God, but a community leader whose gentle voice has brought people together.”
That gentleman was a Coconut Grove native and George Washington Carver Senior High School graduate, The Rev. John Alphonso Ferguson, founding pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights, a respected peacemaker during times of racial unrest in Miami, and a helping hand to anyone who needed him — whether it was a Florida governor, police officers battling drug dealers, or workers facing discrimination on the job.
He served on the old Dade County Community Relations Board, the School Desegregation Committee established by the late federal Judge C. Clyde Atkins, and chaired the Richmond Heights Community Development Corp.
The preacher’s son was born Javan Alphonso Ferguson on July 23, 1923, and later changed his first name. He died on July 26, three days after his 89th birthday, and six months to the day after the death of Anita Knowles Ferguson, his wife of 63 years and his “soul mate,” according to daughter Karen Ferguson Webb.
She said he had a history of heart disease, and retired 12 years ago from the church he led for 36 years after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery.
A career veteran of the U.S. Navy who enlisted after the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ferguson served for 21 years during three wars: World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was “saved” during that time, said daughter Verna Ferguson, and founded the church after he retired from the service with the rank of chief petty officer and moved his family back to Miami from Norfolk, Va.
He attended Florida A&M University and earned a degree from Virginia Union University.
What began in 1964 as a gathering of 13 men in the Ferguson living room burgeoned to a congregation of almost 800 by the time Ferguson stepped down from the pulpit. During the church’s first decade, before it could support a pastor’s salary, her father also worked full-time as a carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, Verna Ferguson said.
The Rev. Alphonso Jackson, Ferguson’s successor, said about 1,400 regular worshippers now attend Sunday services. He said Ferguson not only helped the congregation grow but planned far ahead for the church facility’s expansion, even as parishioners questioned his vision.
Its campus will soon include apartments for senior citizens: a 79-unit building that will bear Ferguson’s name, one more tangible monument to “a great man and an icon of a leader,” Jackson said.
His predecessor “had a strong presence, and he cared about people,” Jackson said. “He was concerned about fair share, and went to battle for the underdog.”
Humble, yet well connected — and trusted — in the halls of power, Ferguson “was instrumental in many African-Americans getting certain positions they would otherwise have been shut out from,” Jackson said.
Judges would release defendants into his custody, daughter Karen said, and Gov. Lawton Chiles called on him to deliver his inaugural invocation.
Under Ferguson’s leadership, Second Baptist became co-owner of the first day-care center in Richmond Heights, a South Miami-Dade community. The church established an employment center to help young people prepare for work, and at the time of Ferguson’s retirement, was involved in more than 30 ministries.