Emerson Fullwood says that he has been part of two revolutions in his lifetime.
The first came in 1966, when Fullwood entered NC State as one of the first African-American men to attend the recently integrated university. The second came years later but was also transformative.
“It was a great time to be at NC State because we had a chance to lend our voices to civil rights, but also to all of the other changes that were happening, such as the Vietnam War, ending apartheid in South Africa and the fight for individual freedoms for everyone,” the Wilmington native says.
Fullwood was recently honored for his contributions to civil rights by the Countywide CDC Committee on the Humanities and the Arts, a nonprofit organization that sponsored an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
He remembers joining friends to picket pizza parlors and taverns along Hillsborough Street for the right to have a meal. They succeeded. But what Fullwood is quick to emphasize is the way that NC State supported integration and fulfilled his goal to attend one of “the best universities” that he could find.
“I was looking for an exceptional education, which of course I did get at the university,” says Fullwood, who graduated in 1970 with an economics degree from the Poole College of Management. “On the academic side, it was an incredible experience, and it was so incredible because outside of the classroom was so extraordinary during the 1960s.”
After graduating, Fullwood went on to receive an MBA from Columbia University and then landed the job where he spent his entire career – at Xerox, the Fortune 500 corporation that has been providing printers and other document management tools to businesses worldwide for more than 100 years.
He started in sales and quickly moved into the executive ranks, eventually working in offices in Europe, Asia and Latin America. When he retired in 2008, Fullwood was executive chief staff of developing markets operations for the company.
He says being at Xerox allowed him to witness the second revolution – the rapid growth of modern technology and its effect on every aspect of society today.
“I got to be a big, big part of a global, iconic company that literally changed the way business was done around the world,” said Fullwood. “When I was in school, we could not have had a discussion on mobile devices. We did not have computers and iPads in front of us. I was able to be a huge part of a place that revolutionized communications and brought technology to the forefront.”