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FERGUSON, HENRY CLAY

FERGUSON, HENRY CLAY (1847–1923). Henry Clay Ferguson, county official and Republican party chairman, was born in Texas in 1847, probably into slavery. He moved to Houston and became secretary of the Harris County school board. He later served with distinction in the State Police. In 1870, after the disbanding of this force, he moved to Fort Bend County, one of the few Texas counties with a black majority (5,510 black residents and 1,604 white ones). A contemporary who knew Ferguson described him as "a man of great dignity, [who] never talked loud in conversation, and looked one in the face when he talked." Ferguson succeeded another African American, Walter M. Burton, as sheriff, an office in which he took an even-handed approach that gained the respect of many whites. With their support he easily obtained the surety bond, required at the time, to run for public office. In 1876 he was elected county tax assessor, a position he held until 1888. His brother Charles M. Ferguson, whom Henry supported at Fisk University, returned to Fort Bend County and was elected district clerk in 1882. In 1888, in an effort to eliminate black Republican control of the county, a number of young white men formed the Young Men's Democratic Club, which became known as the Jaybirds. Black Republicans and their white supporters became known as the Woodpeckers. In the hostilities that developed two white men were killed. The Jaybirds blamed black leaders for the deaths, even though no African Americans were formally charged. The Jaybirds demanded that six prominent black leaders leave the county. Though the club banished Charles, it allowed Henry to remain. Ferguson later gave up his tax-assessor position, sold his property, and left for Houston (see JAYBIRD-WOODPECKER WAR)

After leaving Fort Bend County, Ferguson obtained a concession from Mexico and proposed to colonize 10,000 blacks to grow cotton. Even though the plan fell through, he gained a position on the committee for permanent organization at the national Republican convention in 1888. His growing prominence in the Texas Republican party and his support for William McKinley led to his election over Norris Wright Cuney as temporary state party chairman in 1896. Ferguson defeated William Madison McDonald to become permanent chairman at the 1898 state Republican convention, but the split that developed between the Ferguson and McDonald factions weakened black influence within the Republican party. Ferguson died on January 6, 1923, in Ellis County.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). Paul D. Casdorph, A History of the Republican Party in Texas, 1865–1965 (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1965). Lawrence D. Rice, The Negro in Texas, 1874–1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971). Clarence Wharton, Wharton's History of Fort Bend County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1939). Pauline Yelderman, The Jay Bird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County (Waco: Texian Press, 1979).

Douglas Hales

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Douglas Hales, "FERGUSON, HENRY CLAY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe19), accessed April 21, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.