J. William Fulbright
James William Fulbright was one of the most prominent, intellectual, important and gifted American statesmen of the 20th century who exhibited an unwavering dedication to global cooperation, internationalism and humanity.
The Early Years
J. William Fulbright was born on April 9, 1905 in Sumner, Charlton County, Missouri. In 1906 he moved with his parents to Fayetteville, Arkansas. He attended the primary and secondary education teachers’ training schools of the University of Arkansas for grades 1 through grade 12. He conducted his college studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was awarded the B.A. degree in Political Science in 1925. He then attended Oxford University, England, as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received an M.A. degree in 1928.
Upon returning to the United States from Oxford University, Fulbright studied law at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He graduated law school in 1934 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1934.
After becoming a licensed attorney, Fulbright served as an attorney for the United States Department of Justice, Anti-trust Division from 1934-1935. He served as an Instructor in Law at George Washington University in 1935 and as a Lecturer in Law at the University of Arkansas from 1936-1939. From 1939 to 1941, Fulbright served as the President of the University of Arkansas, at the time being the youngest university president in the United States. Fulbright also engaged in the newspaper business, the lumber business, banking, and farming.
Senator Fulbright was married to Elizabeth Williams Fulbright for more than fifty years, from 1932 until her death in 1985. They had two daughters, Roberta Fulbright Foote and Elizabeth Fulbright Winnacker. Senator Fulbright married Harriet Mayor in 1990.
J. William Fulbright was elected, as a Democrat, to the United States Congress (Seventy-Eighth) on January 3, 1943. He served as a United States House of Representative of Arkansas in the United States Congress until January 3, 1945. He was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the same year he was elected to Congress, 1943.
In September of that year, the United States House of Representatives adopted the Fulbright Resolution supporting an international peace-keeping mechanism encouraging United States participation in what became the United Nations.
Fulbright was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in November of 1944, and was subsequently re-elected to the United States Senate in 1950, 1956, 1962 and again in 1968. His legislation establishing the Fulbright Scholarship Program passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 1946.
Fulbright served in United States Senate from January 3, 1945 until his resignation on December 31, 1974. He served as Chairman, Committee on Banking and Currency (Eighty-fourth through Eighty-sixth Congresses). In 1949, Senator Fulbright became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From 1959-1974 he served as chairman of the committee (Eighty-sixth through Ninety-third Congresses).
Fulbright’s Contributions & Legacy
Senator Fulbright’s contribution to his country and the world were both profound and ever-lasting. His influence on America’s foreign policy, and his vision for mutual understanding shaped the extraordinary Fulbright Scholarship exchange program bearing his name. The purpose of the Fulbright Scholarship Program as approved by Congress was to "enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."
Senator Fulbright was clearly transformed by his early international experience at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Fulbright’s thirty year political career in the United States Congress was distinguished by numerous accomplishments including his unequaled contribution to international affairs which was marked by his tenure as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Even after becoming newly elected to the United States Congress in 1943, and being appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the same year, Fulbright gained enormous national attention in September of 1943 when the United States House of Representatives adopted the Fulbright Resolution supporting an international peace-keeping mechanism encouraging United States participation in what ultimately became the United Nations.
Soon thereafter, Fulbright’s legislation establishing the now World recognized “Fulbright Scholarship Program” passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 1946. The first participants in the Fulbright Scholarship Program went overseas in 1948 being funded by war reparations and foreign loan repayments to the United States. Senator Fulbright’s Program drew strength from the U.S.’s national commitment to develop post war leadership and engage constructively with the community of nations.
Fulbright was able to bring together the strength and support of the United States government and along with binational partnerships with foreign governments, thereby forming Fulbright Scholarship Program sponsors for both U.S. and foreign participants for exchanges in all areas of endeavors such as the sciences, business, academe, public service, government, and the arts. The Fulbright Scholarship Program continues to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries throughout all parts of the globe.
Senator Fulbright’s career was marked by notable instances of principled dissent as well as strengthening national consensus. For instance, in 1954, Senator Fulbright was the only Senator to vote against an appropriation for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was chaired by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy; and, in 1961, he lodged serious objections to President Kennedy in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Contrariwise, Senator Fulbright also worked to build national consensus, for instance, he supported creating a national center for the arts, and his initial legislation led to the founding of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Senator Fulbright was a powerful voice in the turbulent Vietnam War era, when he chaired the Senate hearings on United States policy and the conduct of the war. In 1963 Walter Lippman wrote of Fulbright: "The role he plays in Washington is an indispensable role. There is no one else who is so powerful and also so wise, and if there were any question of removing him from public life, it would be a national calamity."
Senator Fulbright authored several books, including "The Arrogance of Power," "The Crippled Giant," and "The Price of Empire." In 1982, the University of Arkansas formally dedicated the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences in recognition of the contributions of J. William Fulbright toward international understanding and education. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright Exchange Program, the United States Postal Service issued a special commemorative stamp during a ceremony held February 28, 1996, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
On October 24, 1999, the University of Arkansas dedicated the Fulbright Peace Fountain in honor of the Senator. The fountain, designed by Fay Jones, is dedicated to the possibility of peace through education. The Honorable President William Jefferson Clinton dedicated the Fulbright sculpture, which faces the Peace Fountain at the University.
The Final Years
After serving five consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate, Senator Fulbright was defeated in Arkansas’ 1974 Democratic primary. He then served as counsel to the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson until 1993 and remained active in support of the Fulbright Program.
He received numerous awards from governments, universities, and educational organizations around the world for his efforts on behalf of education and international understanding. On May 5, 1993, Senator Fulbright was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. On February 9, 1995, Senator J. William Fulbright died in his Washington, DC home at the age of 89. His body was cremated and his ashes interred in the Fulbright family plot, Evergreen Cemetery, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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