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Crusade of Voters was born from these

meetings. Its dual purpose is stated below:

To increase the voting strength of the

population of the City of Richmond and

to improve the moral, social, economic,

educational, and general welfare.


and VOTER EDUCATION in the City of Richmond and issue

such policy statement or institute such programs that will

improve the economic, educational, general welfare and

solidarity of the people.

“We realized that even though you might have the laws on your

side, if you don’t have the judges and the elected officials willing to

follow the law, you haven’t won the battle, and the battle is down in

the trenches, and you have to elect people that

are going to represent you and are going to obey

the law,” Reid said in the same 2003 interview.

Over the next twelve years, Reid would

continue working to strategically increase the

voter base. Progress was made after the Voter

Rights Act of 1965. The Crusade partnered

with moderate whites, registering many voters.

But while blacks were being elected to the city

council, none had been elected to the General


“As the black vote increased and became

more effective getting persons elected to city

council and elected to Richmond,” said Reid.

“The General Assembly gerrymandered to

make it eight delegates from Richmond and

Henrico and that was almost the size of a

Congressional district. This was the problem

of gerrymandering. They diluted the black vote

so we would never get someone elected to the

General Assembly.”

Reid has a strategic mind, and a continual focus on identifying

the cause of the problem, as well as the solution. Because of this,

the Crusade bargained by saying they would support the Democratic

slate of eight if one of the legislators was African American. The plan

appeared to work, until the chosen candidate dropped out of the race.

“Because I had been involved in setting up the deal, I got caught

up in running,” said Reid. “I had no intention in running. When he

dropped out, they told me ‘you’re going to have to run yourself.’”

Reid lost that election in 1965, but was elected in 1967. This

made history as he was the first Black American elected to the

Virginia General Assembly since Reconstruction.

“Well, you always had everybody watching you,” Reid said. “To

see how you’d react to everything. You had to be very thoughtful with

statements that you made. Your activities and how you treat others.

But there was no hostility. None openly. There may have been some

that I was not aware of. Certainly there were things that happened that

I did not know about.”

At the time, Bernie Henderson was a seventeen year old white

youth, working as a legislative aide for three Delegates.

“In the 1965 campaign, I was a fourteen year old political activist

volunteering in Fergie’s campaign. I was drawn to him because at

the time everything in Virginia politics seemed to be race based and

I thought it was past high time for the African-American community

to be represented in the General Assembly and Fergie was uniquely

qualified for that office.”

When asked about moments of discrimination that Reid

experienced during this period of his life, Reid only recounts one

Dr. William Ferguson “Fergie” Reid is characterized by his hope.

Not an apathetic or ambiguous hope, but an active hope; a hope

marked by a historic election into the Virginia General Assembly, his

co-founding of the Richmond Crusade of Voters, and his continuing

work to establish a strong voter base in his state.

“Well, you don’t give up,” Reid explained, followed by a chuckle.

“You try to make the changes and you try to do it within the system.

We knew that voting was the answer and because we were denied the

right to vote, we would have to register as many blacks as we possibly

could in order to beat the system. We thought the ballot was more

effective than bullets. We had to beat the system within the system.

The voter registration was the only way out. And fortunately with the

Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, we got them.”

The disparities in education and at work that Reid faced as

an African American man heightened his

awareness to injustices and other problems in


“The schools were separate but not equal,”

Reid explained. “The white schools had better

facilities than we did. We never got new books.

We always got hand me downs, and they’d

been used by previous students. They had that

sticker in the front of the book with the names

of previous owners. The white schools had

swimming pools. The high schools had tennis

courts and other athletic facilities which the

black schools did not have. There were no black

principals. We did not have school busses.”

While the teachers were excellent, the

students recognized the inequity.

“Well, we resented it,” Reid answers.

“Particularly when we would get school books

that previous owners had been white and these

were hand me downs. These had no recent

history. That was a handicap. We resented it.

Tried to hope there would be a better day.”

After finishing high school, Reid studied biology at Virginia

Union University and decided on a career in medicine. He attended

Howard University, a prominent HBCU [historically black college

or university] instead of the Medical College of Virginia, which

was within walking distance of his home, because the college did

not accept African-American students. Later he was an intern at the

Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis because it was one of the few

hospitals black Americans were able to train in.

“After that, I did a couple of years in the military,” Reid said, in a

2003 interview published by VCU libraries. “One year in Korea with

the 1st Marine Division and another year at the United States Naval

Hospital at Bethesda.”

While in Korea, Reid heard the news of the Brown v. Board

decision. In that moment, he felt that his hope was being fulfilled.

But when he returned from the Navy, Reid saw that integration was

not as simple as a court ruling.

“When I came back from the Navy, the big battle was Save Our

Schools,” Reid explained. “People were fighting to close the schools

rather than integrate them.”

The Committee to Save Our Schools, was a group of local

Richmond citizens, fighting against a referendum that would defy

the Brown v. Board decision. The black voter turnout in Richmond

against the referendum was disappointing, with less than half of

registered black voters casting a vote at the polls. Reid knew that poor

voter turnout on an issue that affected black voters revealed a deeper

issue. In response, he began meeting with Dr. William S. Thornton

and John M. Brooks to strategize possible solutions. The Richmond

Dr. William “Fergie” Reid:

A Resilient Force in Virginia Civil Rights

By Lydia Freeman



, continued on page 8