Blogs > Liberty and Power > S.B. Fuller Centenary

Jun 5, 2005 7:22 pm

S.B. Fuller Centenary

Samuel B. Fuller’s name is not likely to ring a bell either for readers of Liberty and Power or scholars of black history. This is unfortunate on both counts. Fuller’s life was a remarkable illustration of business success and self-help. His company gave inspiration and training to countless aspiring entrepreneurs and other future leaders. His all-out philosophical defense of free markets would have pleased, the hard to please, Ayn Rand.

Fuller was born into rural poverty in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana in 1905. From an early age, he gained a reputation for reliability and resourcefulness. After coming to Chicago in 1920, he worked in a wide range of menial jobs, eventually rising up to become manager of a coal yard. Although he had a secure job during the depression, he struck out on his own preferring “freedom” to “security.” Starting with twenty-five dollars, he founded Fuller Products in 1934. Eventually, it manufactured and sold such diverse commodities as deodorant, hair care, hosiery, and men’s suits. He also published several newspapers including The New York Age and The Pittsburgh Courier.

Fuller was a leading black Republican although he always had an independent streak. He promoted civil rights and briefly headed the Chicago South Side NAACP. Along with black Birmingham businessman, A.G. Gaston, he tried to organize a cooperative effort to purchase the segregated bus company during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He told Martin Luther King Jr., “The bus company is losing money and willing to sell. We should buy it.” King was skeptical of the idea, and not enough blacks came forward to raise the money. Despite his belief in civil rights, however, Fuller’s emphasis was always on the need for blacks to go into business. In 1958, he blasted the federal government for undermining free enterprise and fostering socialism. He feared that it was “doing the same thing today as was done in the days of Caesar--destroying incentive and initiative.” He argued that wherever “there is capitalism there is freedom.”

By the 1950s, he was probably the richest black man in the United States. His cosmetics company had $18 million in sales and a sales force of five thousand (one third of them white). It gave training to many future entrepreneurs and other leaders. He had little patience for race baiters, black or white. “It doesn’t make any difference,” he declared, “about the color of an individual’s skin. No one cares whether a cow is black, red, yellow, or brown. They want to know how much milk it can produce.”

Fuller Products suffered severe reverses after a controversial speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in 1963 in which charged that too many blacks were using their lack of civil rights as an excuse for failure. Many of his comments were reported out of context. Major national black leaders reacted angrily and called for a boycott of Fuller Products. Racists in the South piled on by putting pressure on whites to boycott his products or quit selling for him. Although Fuller Products filed for bankruptcy in 1969, he concentrated with some success on the hard task of rebuilding the company during the 1970s and 1980s. He died in 1988.

Professional historians have pretty much ignored Fuller’s life. The best source is a richly illustrated biography by his daughter, Mary Fuller Casey, S.B. Fuller: Pioneer in Black Economic Development.

Fuller Products is now owned by Dudley Products, Inc.

ADDENDUM: This is a good time to mention that L and P is proud to add Booker Rising to the blog roll. It is a group blog of black conservatives and moderates and includes a valuable and detailed compilation of business and social statistics of black life in the left column. Another new blog on the roll is a very popular one run by John Cole, a thoughtul and independent thinking conservative.

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More Comments:

David T. Beito - 6/5/2005

Yes, I think you would like the biography. The illustrations are great and it has a lot of pithy quotations. She strongly emphasizes her father's pro-free market views.

I agree with you about Cole. Interestingly, I found him through blog.

Kenneth R Gregg - 6/4/2005

Very good material. Think I will order a copy of his daughter's biography of him. He's someone who would make a good example in a business class, as well as in a free market history course.

Love the Booker Rising and the John Cole blogs. They also have some good links that I find interesting as well-- is one that I liked, an African libertarian site.

You might find a friend of mine's blog worth visiting: Darmon is a local black libertarian here in Las Vegas.

Just Ken