Born in Anguilla, Mississippi, in 1916, James Sharbrough Ferguson grew up in the midst of change and economic depression. The son of a Methodist minister, Ferguson spent his childhood in various south Mississippi towns and villages where his father’s ministry took the family. Educated in the public schools of the state, he graduated from high school in Hermanville, Mississippi.
Ferguson received an A.B. degree from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1937. After a brief career as a high school mathematics teacher, he attended Louisiana State University, earning a M.A. degree in 1950. In 1953, he received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Ferguson came to the Woman’s College in 1962 as Dean of the Graduate School. He served as acting Chancellor at UNCG during the two leaves of absence of Chancellor Otis A. Singletary (1964-1965 and 1966-1967). On January 9, 1967, he was appointed Chancellor and served continuously until July 31, 1979. During his tenure as Acting Chancellor and Chancellor, the enrollment of the University more than doubled to nearly 10,000 students; the faculty grew at a similar pace and 17 major buildings were completed or begun.
Following his retirement as Chancellor, Ferguson was appointed University Distinguished Professor of History at UNCG and served in that capacity until December 1983. He died in Greensboro on September 24, 1984. In 1985, the new arts and sciences building, completed before his retirement, was named after him.