The State of West Virginia was still in its infancy in 1888, the year Gurnett “Cap” Ferguson was born.
After growing up in the small Town of Dunbar, just west of Charleston, Cap graduated from the West Virginia Collegiate Institute Normal School – now known as West Virginia State University – in 1912. In the first few years of his adult life, Cap married his wife, Lily, with whom he would spend more than six decades with, and taught public school in both Fayette County and Huntington.
In 1917, as the war in Europe escalated, Cap’s country needed him.
After three months of training, Cap was one of 105 African American military members commissioned with the rank of “Captain.”
As reported by Maria Sisco and Stan Bumgradner in Goldenseal Magazine, “In summer 1918, Cap led an all-Black 1,700-troop transport across the Atlantic. As ranking officer aboard the ship, he became the only African-American to command a transport during the war, earning him the lifelong nickname ‘Cap.’”
After the war and throughout his life, Cap was an advocate for the 5,000-plus African American residents of Charleston. In 1919, Cap founded West Virginia’s first African American Legion, and was instrumental in the founding of the State’s first Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization.
In 1922, Cap opened the historic “Ferguson Hotel” in downtown Charleston. Inspired by his inability to find suitable lodging while in New York City, Cap did not want people of color visiting Charleston, only to be relegated to “a cheap, unattractive and unsanitary colored lodging house.” The grand 72 room hotel became the catalyst for Charleston’s black-business expansion.
After a long life well lived, Cap passed away on Dec. 26, 1982, at the age of 94. Cap and Lily now rest eternally together at Tyler Mountain Memorial Gardens in Kanawha County.
To learn more about the trailblazing life of Gurnett “Cap” Ferguson, read Maria Sisco and Stan Bumgradner’s excellent article from Goldenseal Magazine.
For his dedication to his country, tireless effort for the betterment of his community, and for being one of the true founding pioneers of the great State of West “By God” Virginia, RealWV is humbled to name Gurnett “Cap” Ferguson as the Certified Real West Virginian of the Week.