MIAMI GARDENS – The federal courthouse in downtown Miami bears the name of the late U.S. District Judge Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr., as does a bar association and a Miami Metromover station. Now a street has been named after the distinguished attorney and jurist in his hometown, Miami Gardens.
Ferguson’s widow Betty, a retired Miami-Dade County commissioner, and Tawnicia Ferguson-Rowan, Ferguson’s daughter, joined Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on May 30 for a ceremony to name the section of Honey Hill Road between Northwest 27th and 47th avenues Judge Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Boulevard, as designated by the Florida Legislature.
The couple’s other child, Wilkie D. Ferguson III, is starring in the Broadway play Motown and could not be present.
The dedication, held partly at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreation Complex Auditorium and partly outdoors, also paid tribute to the judge’s life and legacy and commemorated the month that would have marked his 75th birthday.
“The reason we thought it was so important to designate the boulevard is so his legacy will always be present in our community and that our children yet unborn will be the benefactors of the history of a great judge who did so much for the people, for the lost, the left-out, the poor and especially the Department of Children and Families,” Wilson said.
Wilson was instrumental in getting the Legislature to approve the street designation while she served as a state senator.
Remembered as a trailblazer by those who knew him, Ferguson made history by becoming the first African American appointed to the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court and the Third District Court of Appeals. Then President Bill Clinton nominated him in 1993 to the federal bench, where he served until his death in 2003.
Born and raised in the Liberty Square public housing complex in Miami, Ferguson was a member of the first graduating class of the iconic Miami Northwestern High School in 1956. He was a graduate of Howard University’s law school, a former Army lieutenant and magazine editor.
Despite his professional accomplishments, those who knew Ferguson best say it was his character, love for people and commitment to his community which made him stand out.
“No man is irreplaceable but there are a special few who are unforgettable. Wilkie Ferguson was in that number,” said attorney H.T. Smith, Ferguson’s friend, colleague and golf buddy. “He was a courageous judge, passionate lawyer and committed community servant and he really enjoyed trying to find the right circumstance to use mercy.”
Betty Ferguson described the honor given to her husband as “significant.” “Both of us were raised here in this North Dade Community and … (wanted) to have a significant impact on this community because of our love for it. To have people understand that and show their appreciation means an awful lot,” Ferguson said. “This is home for both of us, so to have his name on a street in the area, it’s just indescribable in terms of how I feel about it and I thank the congresswoman for recognizing that our children really do need heroes to look up to.”
Ferguson said despite shying away from publicity, her husband would have been proud to receive this honor. “He was really a gentle giant so he didn’t seek publicity but I know that he certainly would have been very proud and very appreciative,” she said. “He was so much into young black boys that he would have surely recognized the importance of our children in our community recognizing role models they could look up to, so I’m sure he would have been appreciative of this honor.”
The couple’s daughter, Tawnicia, agreed and said that she will sometimes intentionally drive down Wilkie D. Ferguson Boulevard, past the Betty T. Ferguson Center, simply to rejoice in the legacy of her parents.
“My heart is full. I am proud, I’m excited. I recognize that it’s an honor well-deserved for him and it’s wonderful to know that the community stands with me in that recognition,” Ferguson-Rowan said. “To have my mom here to enjoy this special occasion in the center named for her, it’s just ineffable. There are no words for it.”