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.
African American artists whom Fergerson was friends with - Developing an approach to African American art - The black aesthetic - Necessity for African American art critics to write about African American art.
More on Nola Ewing - Formation of the Federation of Black History and Art - Jessie Sayers Terry - Distinguished African American families in early Los Angeles - Doing oral history interviews with people in the Los Angeles African American community - More on Jessie Sayers Terry - Gathering information about African American history - Including African Americans in an exhibit on the history of Los Angeles - More on younger activists' lack of knowledge about the history of African American resistance.
More on the black aesthetic - The withdrawal of government funding from African American art programs - Mobile exhibitions and lectures presented by the Black Arts Council (BAC) - Contribution of Women to Watts exhibition - African American Dolls exhibition - Obtaining materials for the Blacks in Films exhibition - Lack of financial support from the African American community for the film exhibition - Need for African Americans to support their own culture - The difficulty of creating an accurate artist's rendering of Martin Luther King Jr.
Increasingly spends time away from LACMA to work with African American community organizations - Evolution of the terms African Americans have identified themselves by - Decision to retire from LACMA - Curates LACMA's L.A. Expressions: The Cultural Shift - Artists featured in the exhibit - Greg Pitts's essay for the exhibit's catalog - Continuing absence of programs at LACMA designed to serve African Americans - Job offer from Los Angeles Southwest College.
Position running art gallery at Southwest College - African American culture - Offer to do an exhibition at California State University, Northridge - African American political art of the sixties and seventies - Media images of African Americans in the nineties - The Northridge exhibition, 1960s Second Generation, and exhibitions at California State University, Dominguez Hills - Sits on panel selecting artists for Metro Rail stations - Whites' fascination with African American events - Conducting tours of murals in South Central Los Angeles - Difference between the California Afro-American Museum and mainstream museums - Arts grants.
Searching out the history of African Americans - Plan to mount a photographic exhibition on African American history in Los Angeles - Son Kinte K. Fergerson's desire to do an exhibit - Need for communities to listen to artists - Fergerson's desire to write a book - Current African American scholars and the Afrocentric point of view - More on interviewing people in the Los Angeles African American community - The future of the California Afro-American Museum.
Fergerson's photographic exhibition Memory, Fire and Rebirth - The accessibility of African American materials kept at mainstream institutions - Mayor Thomas Bradley's appointments to the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs - African American identification with the dominant culture - Poor documentation of African American history - Lack of job opportunities for African Americans involved in the arts - The California Afro-American Museum's handling of the catalog essays for John Outterbridqe: A Retrospective - Problems with scholarship on African American art - Importance of African American art in the period 1966 to 1976.
Inadequate teaching of African American history in schools - More on African American art from 1966 to 1976 - The Harlem Renaissance - LACMA's purchase of David Hammons's Injustice Case - LACMA's unofficial support of Fergerson's involvement with African American art - The Watts Summer Festival of Art and the Festival in Black - Exhibiting in prisons and exhibiting African American art by inmates - More on the Watts Summer Festival of Art and the Festival in Black - Exhibitions mounted by the BAC - African American art in LACMA's collection - Trying to persuade LACMA to identify African American artists in its labels.
Refusal to appear on the television series Rainbow Reading unless the artists interviewed were paid - More on the California Afro-American Museum - Importance of community art efforts in the fostering of African American art - Clyde W. Oden Jr. and the Third World Art Festival - Fergerson's reaction to current trends and issues in the African American community - Oppression of American Indians - Fergerson's concern to give credit to all the individuals involved in exhibitions he puts on - Attitudes that represent a holdover from slavery - Racial stereotyping in Hollywood films.
Miriam Matthews's art collection - Early American art - Fergerson's introduction to art - Exploitation of African American artists in the South - More on the catalog essays for Outterbridqe: A Retrospective - African American curators - J. Alexander Somerville and the Somerville Hotel - Criticism of the emphasis on entertainment in current discussions of Central Avenue - Creating awards within the African American community.
LACMA's New Talent Award - Tony Hill and Frances Williams - Tribute to William E. Smith - Charles Hayward - More on the California Afro-American Museum - High art and the majority culture's control over aesthetic value - The idealized image of women used as a tool for oppression - Attending a feminist meeting - Criticism of African American feminists - African American women's economic advantages over African American men - Fergerson's daughters, Regina L. Fergerson and Melanie Fergerson Montgomery - Low birth rates among the African American middle class - Charles Dickson.
More on Charles Dickson - Noni Obalisi's mural depicting the history of the Black Panther Party - The need for young people to learn about heroic African American predecessors - The role of television in children's lives - Importance of respect for elders - Need for African Americans to have a command of English - Problems of young African Americans.