Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures
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William Ferguson

William FergusonWilliam Ferguson
(1857 – 1910)

William Ferguson was born on May 22, 1857 to the family of Joseph Ferguson, the first African American graduate of the Detroit Medical College.  He was educated in Detroit schools.  Ferguson had a successful career in printing and real estate and also became a lawyer.  In 1890 he was expelled from Gies’ European Hotel Restaurant for refusing to eat in the colored section. He filed a lawsuit and was the successful plaintiff in a landmark civil rights case before the Michigan Supreme Court, Ferguson v. Gies when the court ruled that separation by race in public places was illegal. The ruling propelled Ferguson to a prominent position in the African American community.  William Ferguson was Michigan’s first African American legislator when elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1893 and again in 1895.  

Ferguson died in 1910 and is buried in section 10, Lot 54.  

A Michigan Historical Marker was placed at Ferguson’s former homesite on Alfred Street near the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center.