Samuel B. Fuller (S.B. Fuller)A BLACK MAN! (June 4, 1905, Monroe, Louisiana —- October 24, 1988, Blue Island, Illinois) was an American entrepreneur. He was founder and president of the Fuller Products Company, publisher of the New York Age and Pittsburgh Courier, head of the South Side Chicago NAACP, president of the National Negro Business League, and a prominent black Republican.
S.B. Fuller's life was an illustration of business success and self-help. His company gave inspiration and training to countless aspiring entrepreneurs and future leaders, including John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing, George Ellis Johnson founder of Johnson Products, and Dr. T.R.M. Howard.
After going to Chicago in 1928, Fuller worked in a wide range of menial jobs, eventually rising to become manager of a coal yard. Subsequent to his employment in the coal yard, he gained employment as an insurance representative for Commonwealth Burial Association, an African-American firm. Although he had a secure job during the depression, he nevertheless struck out on his own preferring “freedom” to “security.”
The substantial number of African American families who moved to the South side of Chicago during the Great Migration became the customer base from which Fuller Products would see tremendous expansion. The additional growth was sufficient for the company to open its own factory in 1939. In 1947, Fuller purchased Boyer to prevent its bankruptcy, keeping his ownership a secret. The company began to manufacture and sell a diverse line of commodities from deodorant and hair care to hosiery and men’s suits. Fuller also purchased several newspapers including the New York Age and the Pittsburgh Courier. Additionally, he owned the South Center Department Store and the Regal Theater in Chicago.
Despite his belief in civil rights, 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.”
Fuller was a good friend and associate of Dr. T.R.M. Howard from Mississippi and later Chicago. Howard was a wealthy black entrepreneur and a prominent civil rights leader and mentor to Medgar Evers. Fuller and Howard had probably met because of their mutual involvement in the National Negro Business League. Fuller was president of the organization for several terms in the 1940s and 1950s. He hired Howard to be medical director of Fuller Products and supported his Republican campaign for Congress in 1958.
Despite his opinion, the White Citizens Councils organized a boycott of Fuller's Nadal products line during the 1950s, when they learned an African American owned the company. This would be the beginning of a turn of fortune for Fuller's business interests that would affect his activities throughout the 1960s.
In 1963 Fuller was the first African American inducted into the National Association of Manufacturers. During his acceptance speech he stated that "a lack of understanding of the capitalist system and not racial barriers was keeping blacks from making progress." In an interview that same year with U.S. News and World Report he said, "Negroes are not discriminated against because of the color of their skin. They are discriminated against because they have not anything to offer that people want to buy." Afterwards his company suffered severe setbacks as many of his comments were reported out of context. Major national black leaders reacted angrily and called for a boycott of Fuller Products.
In 1968, Fuller sold unregistered promissory notes in interstate commerce for which he was charged with violating the Federal Securities Act. After pleading guilty, being placed on five years' probation, and ordered to repay creditors $1.6 million, Fuller Products entered bankruptcy in 1971. Although the company reorganized, reported profits of $300,000 in 1972, and the cosmetics portion of the old company was rebuilt, it never returned to the firm's previous levels of size or profitability.
In 1976, Fuller, as a result of health problems, asked his top distributor, Joe Louis Dudley, Sr., to move to Chicago and become President of the Fuller Products Company. Dudley ran both Fuller Products Company and Dudley Products Company from 1976 until 1984. In 1984, Fuller Products Company was purchased by Dudley.
Fuller was eighty-three years of age when he died at St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island, Illinois from kidney failure.
Who is S.B. Fuller? is one of the featured questions (Chapter 32) in Thomas Woods's 2007 book 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask (ISBN 0307346684)