“The bus company is losing money and willing to sell. We should buy it.” That’s what Samuel B. Fuller is said to have told Dr. King, at the height of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Fuller wanted more than civil rights, he wanted independence. S.B. Fuller was an extraordinary entrepreneur and thought leader. At a time when Black people were expected to beg, Fuller was determined to defy everyone — of all races.
Fuller was the dean of Black entrepreneurs. Fuller began by borrowing $25 on his car, which he grew into a national door-to-door cosmetics company with more than 5,000 salesmen. He was the founder and president of the Fuller Products Company which, at its height in the1960s, included newspapers like the New York Age and Pittsburgh Courier, appliance outlets and department stores, along with farming and cattle interests. At that time, Fuller Products had annual sales of $10 million with offices in 38 states. Fuller grew an empire but was born to sharecroppers in Louisiana. He left at 17, hitchhiked to Chicago and started a new life.
Fuller only received a sixth-grade education, a fact that never bothered him. His mother told him, “The good white people give themselves nine months schooling each year. They give you three. It’s not that they are unfair, but they believe you can learn as much in three months as they can learn in nine. Whatever you do, son, don’t disappoint the good white folks.” That was the attitude Fuller approached life with, a dogged determination that refused anything but independence. That attitude is precisely what made him believe that Black people didn’t just need to boycott the bus company, they could buy it.
“I talked with Dr. King when we boycott the Montgomery bus line. I told him the thing we need to do is go down there and buy the bus line. Then we ride where we choose because it’s our bus line. He didn’t want that.” That’s what Fuller once said in a Washington Post opinion piece. Fuller was indeed the dean of Black entrepreneurs, a man that didn’t think much about protesting but was consumed with economic strength