In the acknowledgments in Iyaluua Ferguson?s biography ?An Unlikely Warrior?Herman Ferguson, Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary, Baba Herman Ferguson said ?When all is said and done, it is the many comrades I have worked with through the years in our efforts to beat back the beast that give substance to my life.? Asante Sana.?? That life now moves to another plane of activism.? Baba Ferguson, 93, joined our illustrious ancestors on September 25 at his home in North Carolina.
Though the warrior had been suffering from congestive heart failure and was at home under hospice care, he made his transition peacefully, according to his wife, Sister Iyaluua Ferguson.
Baba Ferguson?s association with Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and his leadership role in the Republic of New Afrika are among the milestones in his highly eventful life.? But long before reaching these memorable plateaus he was an acclaimed teacher and principal; a Merchant Marine; a graduate of New York University with a Master of Arts in health education; and he held a number of important positions while in self-imposed exile in Guyana, South America.
Born on New Year?s Eve, December 31, 1920, Baba Ferguson was the second of his parents??Benjamin and Julia Mae–five children.? At that time they lived in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, the U.S. Army mega-base.? He was the top student at his intermediate school and the valedictorian but the medal he expected to receive went to another student.? Ironically, many years later he would reunite with the student who handed him the medal because she felt he deserved it.
After being denied that honor Herman?s enthusiasm for education soured and he merely marked time in high school and then there were two years at Livingstone College before he transferred to Wilberforce where he earned his undergraduate degree in science, education, health, and recreation.? When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, Herman had just completed college and now he sought to join in the fight against Japanese aggression.
But he ran smack dab into the military?s institutional racism that denied him a place in the Signal Corps and the Army Air Corps.? The only option left was the Merchant Marines and soon he was on his way to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.
In the biography Herman meticulously recounted his first trip on a ship after becoming a member of the National Maritime Union.? He miraculously survived the German U-Boats who made any travel at sea a perilous adventure.
One of the most significant things Herman encountered during his stint in the Merchant Marines was meeting Jack O?Dell, who later as a member of the Communist Party and a key adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be a valuable behind the scenes player during the civil rights movement.?? He also met Hugh Mulzac, who at one time in the 1920s was hired by Marcus Garvey to captain his ships.? ?A half century later?he received a city proclamation for service to the Black community from Councilman Charles Barron and also receiving a proclamation that evening was Una Mulzac, owner and operator of Liberation Bookstore? in Harlem,? Iyaluua wrote.? She was the daughter of Hugh Mulzac.
Though he was not that excited about being a teacher in New York City, but after a brief period of teaching in Cleveland, New York looked almost heavenly.? Even so, there was much work to be done by the time he settled in Queens in 1957 and teaching health and education.
When plans were approved to build interracial housing in Rochdale Village resident began to protest when no jobs were provided for Black workers.? In June, 1963 a major protest rally was held and Malcolm X was among the speakers.? Herman said he was mesmerized by his speech in the same way he felt in love with New York City after leaving the Merchant Marines.? This was his introduction to the civil rights movement.
Because of his charisma and insight as well as being an Assistant Principal at P.S. 40 when the Rochdale Movement galvanized he was chosen to lead it. During the rallies the Nation of Islam was among the supporters, and while Herman appreciated their interest and his respect for Malcolm was without end, he no intention of becoming a member.? He let them know that whenever Malcolm left the NOI he would be happy to join him.
That opportunity came when Malcolm was no longer with the NOI and was in the process of forming the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.? Much of what Herman knew of these developments was conveyed to him by Lez Edmonds, who was among the early members.
An extensive chapter in his memoir is devoted to the assassination of Malcolm X, an event he witnessed and recalled ?that while the firing was going on, there was a series of flashing yellow bulbs like the kind used to focus light on a scene that was being filmed.?? The lights, he continued, appeared to be coming directly from above the Audubon stage area. Herman believed only the government intelligence agencies would have the capability of filming the assassination.
It took a while before the tragedy of losing Malcolm would allow Herman to move ahead and the Black Brotherhood Improvement Association was the recipient of his vision and commitment.? By 1967, the organization had grown considerably and unfortunately began to attract the attention of the law enforcement agencies, including the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO).? An agent provocateur infiltrated the organization and began pushing them to commit violent acts, including the assassination of Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.? This was the way in which members of the organization and Herman were among those entrapped and arrested in 1967.
The arrests left the community in shock and there followed a series of rallies and fund raising activities for them.? Meanwhile, Herman, by now a member of the Republic of New Afrika, was out on bail but realized that if he stayed around he was going to prison.? In 1968 he left the city and later surfaced in Detroit in time for the shootout at New Bethel Baptist Church.
Back in New York City, Herman, along with comrade in arms, Arthur Harris, were convicted and sentenced to three to seven years in prison.? Rather than face incarceration they decided to leave the country?Guyana, South America was their destination.? Upon arrival in Guyana where no passport was needed, Herman became Paul Adams, a name under which he would work for the government there for the next nineteen years.
Before departing he left money for his wife and four children to live on for a while, but his wife, Rose, from whom he was estranged, died in 1970 and he wondered about the fate of his children.? That?s when Iyaluua became a stronger force in his life, visiting him on occasion in Guyana where such notables as artist Tom Feelings and author Julian Mayfield had intervened on his behalf with the government to get him a better job while there.
Among the several productive jobs he had in Guyana was as coordinator of the country?s National Service Publishing Center.? From this post he supervised the publication of all reading materials for the schools of Guyana.? But things were not as idyllic as the couple envisioned, in fact, they got so bad that they knew it was time to seek another haven. Grenada was a first choice but the debacle there and the murder of Maurice Bishop in 1983 eliminated that possibility.? Instead of leaving Guyana, they found a comfort zone in the country near the Venezuelan border where they stayed until it was time to return to the states.
A coterie of activists at home, led by Sonny Carson, Elombe Brath, Father Lawrence Lucas, Viola Plummer et al had formed a Free Herman Ferguson Committee.? In addition, there were family issues that made it necessary for Iyaluua to return to the states in 1988.? A year later Herman, no longer Paul Adams, was ready to face whatever punishment awaited him in New York City.? He was arrested and sent to Attica Prison and later to Woodbourne where he served two years before being transferred to a Queensboro facility.
In 1992, his request for parole was denied.? But thanks to the assistance of attorney Joan Gibbs who was diligent in her determination to get Herman another parole hearing and the presence of Judge Bruce Wright, he was finally released on parole.? He was 71.
Almost immediately, Herman began working with the Malcolm X Grassroots Committee, appearing at rallies on behalf of other political prisoners, and working on his autobiography.? He and Iyaluua had practically finished the book as they packed their bags to relocate to North Carolina.? For those seeking more on a life that will be memorialized this coming Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina and certainly in other locations in the coming days get An Unlikely Warrior?Herman Ferguson: Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary (Ferguson-Swan Publications, North Carolina, Black Classic Press, 2011.