The founder of the North Canton Fire Department, Charlie Ernest Ferguson, was known to many throughout the county for wearing several different hats.
Ferguson was a fixture during elections for more than 25 years as a poll taker at Canton Elementary School and the oldest deacon at Hickory Log Baptist Church in Canton, where he helped lay the building’s foundation more than 50 years ago.
He was known as a community leader who helped bridge relationships among all people, whatever their race, in the county, and as a leader by example of tolerance and acceptance during the Civil Rights era.
“He’s always been a man of few words,” said John Heard, deacon at the church. “What he did, he didn’t publicize. He just went and did.”
For all his long list of contributions to the community, a resolution by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners presented at the funeral by Commissioner Harry Johnston read, “Charlie Ferguson will be greatly missed by all who knew him, but his legacy will live on.”
The resolution went on to say “Therefore be it resolved … that Tuesday, May 1, 2012, be declared a day to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Mr. Charlie Ernest Ferguson.”
Ferguson’s grandson, James Marshall Shepard, told the Tribune in 1998, “He had obstacles in his path, particularly in the era he was in.”
“I could imagine that it was not easy to get financing for loans as it is now. It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Shepard, a 1987 graduate of Cherokee High, worked as a scientist at NASA’s Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
After establishing the wrecker service and Texaco station, Ferguson and his son, Tony Ferguson, saw a need for a fire station in the Nineteen and Pearidge communities. The two went on to establish the first all-black volunteer fire department in their community and throughout the state of Georgia.
He was later hired by the Cherokee County School District as a school bus driver, and he drove for 10 years.
Heard said Ferguson knew a lot of people and those who knew him thought a lot of him.
“But there’s still a lot of people in the community that didn’t realize the impact he had,” Heard said. “He could get more done sitting around a fire department than the average man out in the field trying to get something done.”
For 12 years, Ferguson served as chairman of the volunteer fire department. Ferguson also assisted in establishing a community park completed in 1998 and the park commission named the baseball field after him.
Pat Tanner, former Canton City Council member, said Ferguson had a love for children and did what he could through the years to make sure children in the black community were involved with sports at Ferguson Field.
“Back then, our children didn’t have fields they could practice on,” she said.
Tanner was selected to the Board of Health position after Ferguson resigned.
“He encouraged me when I threw my hat into the political ring,” she said. “He was the first Afro-American that I saw at a poll here in Cherokee County, which impressed me. To go to the poll and vote and actually see someone that represented you there made you feel good.”
She said Ferguson and her mother were childhood friends, and he was known to work tirelessly with civic and social groups in the community.
“He was like a war horse,” Tanner said. “He was instrumental in seeing that a lot of things were accomplished within black community, especially within Pearidge and Nineteen area.”
Tanner said Ferguson will truly be missed, and the civic leader took a lot of history with him in his passing.
“I hope somewhere, somehow that someone has been able to record the knowledge he had of this community. He saw it all — the good, the bad and the ugly. I think he tried to make a difference and he did. I am a better person for having known him,” she said.
Pat Tanner’s mother, Ozella Tanner, said Ferguson was a friend to many people.
“I think we have lost a great person in our community,” she said. “He was a great leader and worked well with others. I saw him as a friend.”
Born in Tolbert County on Nov. 27, 1922, Ferguson was the first child born to Charlie Wesley Ferguson and Marie Melson Ferguson. Ferguson and his family moved to Bartow County when he was young and then on to Cherokee County.
Ferguson attended the historic Hickory Log School in Canton and left school to join the Army. After his service, he used the G.I. Bill to obtain his high school diploma.
Ferguson married Eddie Mae Ferguson in 1942, who passed away in 1979. They are survived by their two children, Frankie Ferguson Shepherd of Canton, a Board of Elections member, local Democratic Party leader and retired administrator and teacher; and Tony Ray Ferguson of Canton. Ferguson is also survived by a sister, Leatha Watts of Canton, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren
Frankie Shepherd is the second generation of her family to win the Lamar Haley Award from the Canton Rotary Club, as her father was one of the first recipients of the community service award.
Ferguson was also honored by the American Legion Post 45 for his service to the community.
Funeral services were conducted at noon Tuesday at First Baptist Church Canton, with the Rev. Robert D. Holmes officiating. Interment followed in the Georgia National Cemetery.
Contributions may be made to Georgia Burn Foundation, at 2725 Chantilly Drive in Atlanta.