Stewart B. Fulbright, Jr.
December 11, 1919 – January 1, 2012
Unit 477th Bombardment Group
A trailblazing black educator and first dean of the School of Business at North Carolina Central University.
Dr. Stewart B. Fulbright was born in Springfield, Mo., in 1919. He earned a bachelor’s degree in French from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1941.
In early 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which in 1941 had created a program in Tuskegee, Alabama, to train African-American aviators. He was one of nearly 1,000 men who trained there to be pilots, navigators and bombardiers during the war. The program was known as the “military experiment” that was later to be called the “Tuskegee Experience”, so named because the unit trained at segregated facilities in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in December 1943, he served as the pilot of a B-25 bomber for the rest of the war. He was preparing for deployment with his all-black 477th Bombardment Group to the Pacific when the war ended. He said he was taught to fly by black civilians. He arrived at Camp Crowder, Missouri, with twenty-one young white men to see if the Army would take him. At five feet seven inches tall, he had to weigh one hundred twenty-five pounds to be accepted. He said he ate bananas when he got off the bus, took and passed the written exam, ate lunch and did not go to the bathroom until he was weighed and was exactly one hundred twenty-five pounds. Of the twenty-one men on the bus, only two of the young men passed the written and physical exam.
Overcoming segregation and prejudices, the participants of the Tuskegee Experiment proved African Americans could expertly fly and maintain sophisticated military aircraft.
Many of the pilots went on to become some of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II. Fulbright was one of the first pilots on the B-25 in charge of the crew. Fulbright was commissioned as a second lieutenant and pilot in December 1943 and served as a B-25 bomber pilot for the rest of the war. His all-black 477th Bombardment Group was preparing for deployment in the Pacific theater when the war ended in 1945.
After the war he received an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1947, and joined the faculty of the Commerce Department of North Carolina Central University. He received his PhD in business administration from Ohio State University in 1953.
He served as acting dean of the Undergraduate School from 1966 to 1968, then returned to the Commerce Department as its chair in 1968. When the department became the School of Business in 1972, he became its first dean, serving in that position until 1976. After his retirement in 1982, Dr. Fulbright was honored by the university with the title of professor emeritus.
“Everyone thought of him as a friend,” said Dr. Howard Fitts, former chair of Public Health programs at NCCU and a longtime colleague. “He was well-liked and respected, and students felt at ease with him.” NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms added, “During my tenure here, I have always felt I owed a great debt of gratitude and respect to the men and women who founded and built this university. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants, and Dr. Fulbright was one of those giants.”
Dr. Fulbright remained in contact with his wartime comrades through his active membership in the Wilson V. Eagleson Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, based in Goldsboro. He was among the Tuskegee Airmen present in Washington in 2007 when they were awarded the bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal.