Oral Histories

Interview of Cecil Fergerson

African American art curator and community-activist. Co-founder of the Black Arts Council, advocate for African American exhibits at LACMA, and exhibit creator in community venues.
African-American Artists of Los Angeles: Cecil Fergerson
African American Artists of Los Angeles
African American History
Biographical Note:
African American art curator and community-activist. Co-founder of the Black Arts Council, advocate for African American exhibits at LACMA, and exhibit creator in community venues.
Mason, Karen Anne
Fergerson, Cecil
Persons Present:
All tapes except Tape VI: Fergerson and Mason; Tape VI: Fergerson, Mason, and Thomas Watson
Place Conducted:
Fergerson's home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Karen Anne Mason; B.A., English, Simmons College; M.A., Art History, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
Lisa Magee, editorial assistant, edited the interview. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed. Fergerson reviewed the transcript. He verified proper names and made minor corrections and additions. After reviewing tapes I through X, he asked that another interview session be scheduled in order to address issues he felt had not been adequately covered in the earlier sessions. Tapes XI through XIII were recorded at that time, and Fergerson also reviewed that portion of the transcript, again verifying proper names and making minor corrections and additions. Alex Cline, editor, prepared the table of contents. Kristian London, assistant editor, assembled the biographical summary and interview history. Derek DeNardo, editorial assistant, compiled the index.
16.65 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in the series African American Artists of Los Angeles document significant African American Artists and others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who have worked to expand exhibition opportunities and public support for African American visual culture. The series was made possible in part by support from the UCLA Center for African American Studies, Institute of American Cultures.
Family background in Oklahoma - African American history in Oklahoma and Los Angeles - How Fergerson's ancestors came to Oklahoma - How they adopted the name Fergerson - The issue of skin tone in Fergerson's family - Fergerson's father's attempt to secure employment in Texas.
Paternal grandfather's funeral in Oklahoma - Uncle, William Fergerson, brings Fergerson's family to Los Angeles - Settling in Watts - Fate of Japanese American neighbors at the outbreak of World War II - Political awareness and insistence on education in Fergerson's family - Influx of defense industry workers to Los Angeles and layoffs of African Americans after the war - Mother's employment as a domestic worker - Beginning of father's gradual decline - Relationship with sisters and younger brother during Fergerson's teen years - Graduates from high school and applies for first job.
Plans after high school - First girlfriend, Frances Garner - Opting for a janitorial job at Los Angeles County General Hospital over a stint with the National Guard - Quits hospital job - Works as a janitor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History - Trying to balance school, work, and social life - Fellow employees introduce Fergerson to the world of bars, gambling, and women, and offer advice on dealings with white people - Succeeds in securing the midnight shift job - Becomes fascinated with the museum's collections - The Berlin Masterpieces exhibit and the Freedom Train simultaneously come to the museum in 1949.
Racial tension between soldiers guarding the exhibits and the museum crew - Attempts at advancing at the museum - Successfully avoids the draft - Marries Laura Lorraine Vaughn - First encounter with television - Establishment of "helper" positions at the museum - Racism in Los Angeles - Dorie Miller, war hero of Pearl Harbor - Fergerson's interest in French impressionist painters - Richard F. Brown becomes chief curator of the museum - Vincent van Gogh exhibition - Conditions for African American employees at the museum - Jane Hoag Brown's attempt to have Fergerson promoted to preparator - Plans for the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Changes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in the late 1950s - Assisting in mounting exhibits stimulates Fergerson's interest in art - Motivations behind Los Angeles's growing interest in art during the fifties - Impressionist shows Fergerson assisted with - Wealthy patrons of the museum - African American employees hired during Brown's directorship - Civil rights awareness in Los Angeles during the early sixties - Influx of African Americans into Los Angeles during World War II - Reasons for moving the art museum from Exposition Park - African American staff's involvement in establishing the new museum - Minority employment opportunities at the museum decrease once the museum is fully established.
Richard Brown's dismissal as director of LACMA - Arrival of Maurice Tuchman - Claude Booker and his family - Near-fatal car accident hospitalizes Fergerson - Exposure to Black Muslim and Black Panther philosophies - Fergerson demands to be reinstated in his position as modern art preparator at LACMA.
White flight from the cities after World War II - Younger activists' lack of knowledge about the history of African American resistance - Fergerson's involvement in organizations in the African American community in the mid-sixties - Kenneth Donahue becomes director of LACMA - Maurice Tuchman's attitude toward African Americans - Low attendance at LACMA's The Tishman Collection: The Sculpture of Black Africa - Charles M. Weisenberg enlists the museum's African American security guards to reach the black community - The African American "second opening" for the Tishman Collection exhibition - Fergerson's involvement in community art exhibits in the mid-sixties - The founding of the Black Arts Council (BAC).
J. Stanley Sanders's assistance to the BAC - First members of the BAC - Suzanne Jackson and the burgeoning African American art scene in Los Angeles - BAC proposes a lecture series of African American artists at LACMA - The Edward Kienholz exhibit at LACMA - Success of the lecture series at LACMA - Middle-class support of BAC - Claude Booker's style of activism - BAC pressures LACMA to show its Henry 0. Tanner paintings - LACMA employees who had Ph.D.'s - Jim Peoples - Proposing an exhibition of African American artists to LACMA.
Exposing schoolchildren to African American art - Busing students to see Dimensions in Black Art at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art-Fergerson's lectures on African American art - Involvement with the Watts Summer Festival of Art - Arranging a traveling exhibition with Security Pacific Bank - BAC presents an award to Elma Lewis - Exhibition at El Camino College - Exhibition at Norton Air Force Base - Controversy over shroud placed over portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. at the opening of Martin Luther King Jr. General Hospital.
BAC's success in persuading LACMA to exhibit Los Angeles, 1972: A Panorama of Black Artists - Los Angeles Times critic William Wilson's critique of the show - African American newspapers' failure to cover African American art - BAC pickets LACMA's Three Graphic Artists: Charles White, Timothy Washinqton, and David Hammons - Other BAC sponsored activities - Schism develops between Fergerson and Booker due to Fergerson's interest in African American history - Dissolution of BAC - The founding of the California Afro-American Museum - Fergerson is excluded from LACMA's Two Centuries of Black American Art exhibition - Conflict with show's curator, David C. Driskell - LACMA's exclusion of its African American employees.
Fergerson's dislike of the term "radical" - Seeds of social commentary in African American art before the sixties - Corporate collections of African American art - BAC promotes the collecting of African American art - Samella Lewis hired in LACMA's education department - Wealthy museum patrons' lack of interest in African American art - Fergerson's brother, David Ferguson - Charles White's influence on BAC members - Reasons Fergerson never tried to become an artist - Essay for California Afro-American Museum catalog The 19Sixties: A Cultural Awakeninq Re-evaluated.
Art which Fergerson has acquired - Art books in Fergerson's collection - Promoted to curatorial assistant after filing a discrimination suit against LACMA - Background in jazz - Working directly with white artists exhibiting at LACMA - Change in Fergerson's life after near-fatal car accident - Status of the African American family.
Climate for African Americans at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History before Richard F. Brown's arrival - Maurice Tuchman - Racism at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) - More on civil rights awareness in Los Angeles in the early sixties - The African American community stops patronizing black-owned businesses after integration - Fergerson's successful art packing and shipping business - More on Maurice Tuchman - Nola Ewing - Stephanie Holt - Art expertise Fergerson gained from working at LACMA - Meeting collectors and artists.