Remembering Hon. Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr.
Judge Wilkie Demeritte Ferguson, Jr., one of four children of the late Reverend Wilkie Demeritte Ferguson and Mrs. Inez Ferguson, was born in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1938. His strong work ethic was evident at an early age; he pursued education relentlessly and worked steadily since the age of fourteen. He attended Liberty City Elementary School and graduated from Miami Northwestern Senior High School. In 1960, he earned a degree in Business Administration at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. Subsequently, he attained the rank of Captain in the United States Army, completed parachutist training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and became Company Commander in Combat Training Units at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Ferguson’s first civilian employment after his military stint was as an accountant at Ford-Philco Corporation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he quickly became manager of the factory cost unit. After two years with Ford-Philco, Ferguson discovered the meaning of the “glass ceiling” in corporate America and decided to move on. He applied and was accepted to law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While in law school, Ferguson worked in the Civil Rights Division of Health Education and Welfare, where he was said to have “won his spurs” as a field programmer. After graduating from law school, he worked as a staff attorney and office manager for Legal Services of Greater Miami; was a member of the President’s Commission Investigating Causes of the 1968 Civil Disturbances in the City of Miami; co-founded the law firm of McCrary, Ferguson & Lee; and worked as an assistant Dade County School Board Staff Attorney.
In 1973, after just five years of practice, Ferguson was appointed as a Judge of Industrial Claims by Governor Rubin Askew. In 1976, Governor Bob Graham made him the first African-American to serve as a circuit court judge in Dade County. In 1980, he was again the first African-American appointed to serve on the Third District Court of Appeal. During his thirteen years in this position, he wrote several articles for publication, authored over three hundred major opinions, and was especially vocal on issues affecting inner-city young men in the criminal justice system. On the nomination of Senator Graham and with the support of Congresswoman Carrie Meek, Judge Ferguson was appointed by President Clinton in 1993 to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. As a federal judge, he was hailed as a champion of civil rights for the underrepresented.
Outside the courtroom, Judge Ferguson was an ardent public servant and community leader. He belonged to several civic and legal organizations and was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He served on and chaired governing boards for numerous non-profit corporations including Florida Memorial College, the United Way, James E. Scott Community Association, Home and Housing Corporation, and the Doral Ryder Golf Tournament. He was the recipient of many honors and awards for personal achievement and public service.
Judge Ferguson authored many courageous decisions during his tenure on the Bench and was recognized nationally for his legal scholarship, judicial temperament, significant contributions to the cause of justice, and dedicated service to the legal profession. Additionally, he was cited very often for his exemplary community spirit. Judge Wilkie Ferguson, “a brilliant mind with a mighty pen and exquisite tastes,” a soft-spoken “gentle giant,” avid golfer, and “pianist extraordinaire,” was respected for his relentless pursuit of justice. Many people consider Judge Ferguson and his wife, Commissioner Betty T. Ferguson, the linchpins of the movement which changed the structure of Miami-Dade County’s government from at-large to single member districts and the catalysts for the creation of the City of Miami Gardens, the largest predominantly African-American city in the State of Florida.
In 2004, Congress passed legislation naming the new United States Courthouse in Miami after Judge Ferguson.
“I am delighted to see that my colleagues recognize the contribution Judge Ferguson made to South Florida through his activities both as a community servant and jurist,” said U.S. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek, D-Florida, who drafted the bill. “His career is an inspiration to hundreds of young attorneys, and his honor and integrity make him a symbol of fairness on the federal bench. I am pleased to bring this bill to the House floor, for naming the new federal courthouse after Judge Ferguson is an honor that will reinforce his legacy for decades to come.”