Ferguson, a prominent Richmond philanthropist, proudly flies a version of the Confederate flag called "The Navy Jack" aka "The Southern Cross" or the "Rebel Flag" alongside the U.S. flag and the blue Virginia flag. The three banners offer a colorful contrast to his white-and-black palatial home on Three Chopt Road near the University of Richmond.
Displaying a Confederate flag is controversial because people passionately disagree about what it symbolizes, ranging from Southern heritage, pride and sacrifice to the institution of slavery, oppression and resistance to desegregation.
"It's all in the eye of the beholder," Ferguson says. "I'm saluting my heritage, and I think I do it with dignity."
"I have no problem with him flying the flag on his private property, but it's another problem when he's serving in the capacity [of vice chairman of the Valentine Richmond History Center]," says Ray Boone, publisher and editor of the Richmond Free Press. Boone's wife, Jean, is a trustee of the museum.
"Symbols represent values and the Confederate flag represents resistance to American ideals," Boone says. Ferguson's display "raises great suspicion that he'd not be inclined to give an objective" take on Richmond's history, Boone says. "This could be a major setback for the museum because of the negative perception of its leadership."
Bill Martin, the museum's executive director, says "his reason for flying the flag is his reason" and doesn't present a conflict for the museum. Martin says Ferguson's passion for history and his fund-raising prowess will help the museum in its mission to "tell a broader story of Richmond."
Ferguson, the former chairman and chief executive of Craigie Inc., and his wife, Mary Rutherfoord, have deep ties to the community. They've volunteered and given prodigiously to St. Christopher's School, the YMCA, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, Better Housing Coalition and numerous other nonprofits.
Ferguson soon will become chairman of the Valentine, whose mission is to "engage, educate and challenge a diverse audience by collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond's history."
Among its educational offerings is the exhibit "African Americans in Antebellum Richmond," and historic school tours that include "Richmond's African-American Heritage," and "Richmond and the Civil War."
That people might take offense to Ferguson's flying a Confederate flag doesn't bother him, he says, adding that he has another Confederate flag, a version of the first official flag of the Confederacy called "The Stars and Bars," which he flies occasionally. Ferguson was born in Louisville, Ken., and his ancestors fought in the Civil War. He asks a Style reporter where she was born (Richmond).
"Shame on you! You ought to be flying one, too," he says. "Don't you know Richmond is the capital of the Confederacy?" Click here for more News and Features