Who Is T. O. Fuller

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Nitegator

Thomas Oscar Fuller  (1867–1942) Born in Franklinton, North Carolina, near Raleigh, Thomas Oscar Fuller Sr. was the youngest child of former slave J. Henderson Fuller, a wheelwright and carpenter, who had learned to read while still enslaved. Since his services were in constant demand, he was able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of a woman named Mary Eliza Fuller, who became his wife and mother of their fourteen children. Aunt Mary, as she became known, served as a nurse to sick blacks and whites. After the Civil War ended, the elder Fuller bought property in Franklinton and moved his family into their new home.

T.O. Fuller State Park was the first state park east of the Mississippi River open to African Americans and only the second in the nation.   The park was later changed from Shelby Bluffs to T.O. Fuller State Park in 1942 in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller who spent his life empowering and educating African Americans.

T.O. Fuller State Park offers forty-five campsites that are RV accessible with some sites accommodating up to 85 feet of RV space. Tent campers are also welcome. The campground has a picnic shelter, playground and bathhouse and laundry. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, lantern hanger, fire ring, grill, electrical and water hook-ups. There is a centralized dumping station near the entrance of the campground.

Fuller had four wives. The first, Lucy G. Davis, whom he married in 1890, died sometime during the time that they lived in Franklinton. He married Laura Faulkner in 1898 and had two sons, Thomas Jr. (born in North Carolina) and Erskine (born in Tennessee); Erskine died in 1909. Laura Fuller died while the boys were very young, and Fuller married a woman named Rosa, who also died; then he married Dixie Williams. Thomas Fuller died in Memphis on June 21, 1942, and was buried at New Park Cemetery in Memphis.

In 1882 North Carolina established the State Normal School in Franklinton, where Fuller continued his studies until 1885, when he enrolled in Shaw University, a black college in Raleigh. In addition to the academic course, he took simultaneously a four-year course in theology. In 1890, his senior year at Shaw, Fuller became an assistant teacher for the American Baptist Home Mission Society. He worked his way through college and graduated as valedictorian in May 1890 with a B.A. degree. Other degrees followed: M.A., Shaw University (1893); Ph.D., the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Normal, Alabama (1906); and D.D., Shaw University (1910).

Fuller began to preach in 1886 while in his senior year at Shaw, he was not ordained in the Baptist church until April 30, 1890. Upon graduation, Fuller taught in the public schools of Granville County, North Carolina, where he worked for $28 a month. Then he moved to a second school in that county, located in Berea. Still teaching in April 1891 he also headed Belton Creek Church near Oxford.  He established the Colored Graded School and in 1893 the Girls’ Training School in Franklinton, which attracted students from all over the state. He oversaw the construction of a new building for the girls’ school, which was completed in 1894. In 1895, Fuller resigned and became principal of Shiloh Institute at Warrenton, which the Shiloh Association of Baptist churches owned.

Living in Warrenton, he was in the midst of a political hotbed, a place where black Republicans had held various county offices and were in complete charge of county and district party machinery. Fuller won the election handily in 1898, representing the Eleventh District (Warren and Vance counties) and became the first African American in the state senate and the only one until 1968. He drafted and introduced a bill to enable the criminal court to meet every four (instead of every six) months, to give that court jurisdiction over the superior court, and thus decrease docket loads and result in speedier trials.  He successfully led the political task of incorporating North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association—later known as North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company—making it a legitimate insurance industry in the state.

1867-Born in Franklinton, North Carolina on October 25

1890-Becomes ordained in the Baptist church

1892-Receives B.S. degree from Shaw University; begins teaching in public schools

1893-Establishes Colored Grade School in Franklinton; establishes Girls’ Training School in Franklinton; receives M.A. degree from Shaw University

1895-Becomes principal of Shiloh Institute at Warrenton

1898-Elected first African American senator in North Carolina

1900-Moves to Memphis, Tennessee; becomes pastor of First Baptist Church

1902-Becomes principal of Howe Institute; later becomes president

1906-Receives Ph.D. degree from Alabama A&M College

1910-Receives D.D. degree from Shaw University

1942-Dies in Memphis, Tennessee on June 21

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