The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Radm. Lillian Fishburne

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Fishburne was born on March 25, 1949 in Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduating from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) with her B.A. degree in 1971, Fishburne enrolled in the U.S. Navy Women’s Officers School in Newport, Rhode Island and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1973. Fishburne went on to receive her M.A. degree in management from Webster College in 1980 and her M.S. degree in telecommunications systems management from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1982. In addition, she is a 1993 graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, in Washington, D.C.

Fishburne was first assigned as the personnel and legal officer at the the Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey. In 1974, she reported to the Recruiting District in Miami, Florida as a Navy officer programs recruiter where she worked until 1977. She then served as the officer-in-charge at the Naval Telecommunications Center in Great Lakes, Illinois. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Fishburne reported to the Command, Control, and Communications Directorate in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations where she served as the assistant head of the Joint Allied Command and Control Matters Branch. In 1984, she became an executive officer at the Naval Communication Station in Yokosuka, Japan before being named as the special projects officer for the Chief of Naval Operations in the Command, Control, and Communications Directorate.

In 1992, Fishburne was appointed as the commanding officer of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station in Key West, Florida; and, in 1993, she was assigned as the chief of the Command and Control Systems Support Division of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Systems Directorate of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Fishburne assumed command of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Eastern Pacific Station in Wahiawa, Hawaii in 1995, and then reported to the Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control Directorate, Chief of Naval Operations where she served as the director of the Information Transfer Division. On February 1, 1998, Fishburne was promoted to U.S. Navy Rear Admiral making her the first African American female to hold the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.

Fishburne’s decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Legion of Merit Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

Rear Admiral Lillian E. Fishburne was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 28, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.082

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/28/2013

Last Name

Fishburne

Maker Category
Middle Name

E.

Occupation
Schools

William Harry Blount Elementary School

Rock Terrace Elementary School

Shih Lin

Julius West Junior High School

Richard Montgomery High School

Dickinson College

Lincoln University

Women Officers School

Webster College

Naval Postgraduate School

Industrial College of the Armed Forces

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Lillian

Birth City, State, Country

Patuxent River

HM ID

FIS04

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Maryland

Favorite Quote

There is a reason for everything.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/25/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Barbecue

Short Description

Rear admiral Radm. Lillian Fishburne (1949 - ) was the first African American female to hold the rank of Rear Admiral in the Navy.

Employment

Macy's

Chase Manhattan Bank

Naval Air Test Facility

Naval Telecommunications Center

United States Navy

Naval Communication Station

C4 Directorate

Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station

Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon

Favorite Color

Pink

Timing Pairs
0,0:3510,34:3774,39:4104,45:6084,77:6348,82:23882,239:24310,244:39980,396:45820,481:46140,487:47020,501:50220,556:50940,569:76210,794:98482,1065:112509,1172:140790,1380:141546,1389:149080,1409:160741,1529:161452,1539:161768,1544:163506,1576:163822,1581:167772,1654:178032,1863:192888,2011:210408,2235:212040,2266:212550,2272:212958,2277:213366,2282:214896,2293:217590,2303:236420,2585:258974,2714:259703,2724:267578,2813:268502,2840:270850,2853:273720,3091:301565,3198:302245,3207:304530,3229$0,0:2268,27:3339,39:7290,62:8190,75:8820,85:10800,112:11430,121:18365,290:22190,370:23125,385:31180,407:41964,454:45786,512:51242,609:68548,769:68932,774:75638,802:78526,847:83456,939:91892,1029:92576,1036:93944,1052:108951,1138:109456,1144:119506,1248:127287,1328:127682,1335:129973,1382:130526,1391:130842,1396:131474,1406:135610,1461:142640,1558:143100,1563:150836,1622:152768,1657:153524,1670:166980,1824:167700,1834:170100,1909:185110,2065:202330,2188:203870,2271:204290,2279:205200,2294:209290,2345
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lillian Fishburne's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lillian Fishburne describes her mother's family background, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lillian Fishburne describes her mother's family background, pt.2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lillian Fishburne describes her father's family background, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lillian Fishburne describes her father's family background, pt.2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her father's service in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lillian Fishburne speaks about helping her father study for the E7 exam and how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her older brother and which parent's personality she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne describes her earliest childhood memory and the sights, sound and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lillian Fishburne describes her elementary school experience and move to Rockville, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her family's move to Taiwan, China

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her junior high school and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her junior high school and high school experience

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lillian Fishburne discusses the role church played in her growing up, and her childhood interests and activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her career aspirations in high school and attending college

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her studies at Lincoln University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her commencement at Lincoln University and spoken word artist, Gil Scott Heron

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lillian Fishburne describes her job search after college

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lillian Fishburne talks about joining the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her training in the Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lillian Fishburne comments on the treatment of minority women in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lillian Fishburne talks about black women officers in the U.S. Navy and her duties as an ensign

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her first assignment at the U.S. Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her recruiting duties in Miami and work as a communications officer in Great Lakes Region

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her post graduate education and how she met her husband

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her telecommunications training, the birth of her daughter, and early FORTRAN computers

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her work for the Pentagon and in Japan

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lillian Fishburne discusses the confidential nature of her work for the Pentagon

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lillian Fishburne describes her work as Commanding Officer for Naval Computer and Telecommunications in Key West

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her work with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her command of the Naval Computer Telecommunications Station in Hawaii

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lillian Fishburne talks about being the U.S. Navy's first African American woman rear admiral

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lillian Fishburne discusses the U.S. Navy's progress concerning race

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lillian Fishburne describes some of the challenges for women in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her family and her retirement from the U.S. Navy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lillian Fishburne discusses her and her mother's illness and her interest in helping children

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Lillian Fishburne reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Lillian Fishburne talks about her family, her philosophy on managing people and how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lillian Fishburne describes her photos

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

1$5

DATitle
Lillian Fishburne discusses her first assignment at the U.S. Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey
Lillian Fishburne describes some of the challenges for women in the U.S. Navy
Transcript
All right, okay. So all right so your first assignment in, at the Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst. So you're, you're a personnel and legal officer. So, so what--tell us about it. How, how your first assignment went.$$It, it was a nice assignment for an ensign, really, really because I had to do a lot of things. We tested arresting gear and catapult gear, you know when you see on the carriers when they shoot the plane off of the carrier deck and when the plane lands, this, this wire, it traps this wire. Well that's, that's what we did. We tested those systems. So I got to--during down time when it wasn't very busy, the pilot would say hey, Elaine, you wanna go up for a ride? So I'd get to, to go up and do cat shots and arresting gear, you know, traps, as an ensign. But first of all I had to come to Pax River [Patuxent River, Maryland]. So they flew me in our little old prop plane, they flew me to Pax River and I got my seat check, this cord which permit--I, I go--that was the first time I'd been back to Pax River since I was there at that dispensary. And so when I got back, I got to you know, go on the, go on the, the airplane trips. So that, that was fun. The other part was that I was there when the Blue Angels crashed. You remember that crash in Lakehurst? The--traditionally when you know they visit a base, they do a, they do a flyover prior to landing. And so we were having a picnic after, after a baseball game I believe it was, and the command was having this. And so some of my shipmates were explaining the patterns and all that were, you know that they were flying and they explained the whole, whole tradition to me. And--$$Of the Blue Angels and the--what they--$$Yeah, about they're doing the flyover.$$And they're, they're like--for those who are watching this and don't understand, the Blue Angels are a special Navy group of--$$Acro--flight acrobatic team, yeah.$$Yeah, so flight, yeah acrobatic team.$$Right. Yeah, so you know they were explaining, that was the fleur-de-lis and they were explaining the different, the different patterns to me. And then one plane kind of--the wing kind of flipped up and got into another one and they said uh-oh. And we were some of the first to arrive at the, at the crash site even before the emergency people got there.$$So this, this is in, this is in--in '74 [1974] '75 [1975], '76, [1976]?$$I believe that was '74 [1974].$$Seventy-four [1974]. Okay I mean it, it can be checked out by anybody watching this, but just to--$$Yeah, '74 [1974].$$Seventy-four [1974], okay. That must have been a horr--well--$$Yeah, we went out to the crash site and once the, you know, we were looking for survivors and once the emergency personnel came there, they, you know, they made everybody leave and you know--when I got back to the base, you know actually the bottom, of, of, of, of my shoes were, they were just burned.$$So it was hot still?$$Yes.$$Now did everybody die in that crash? All, all the Blue Angels?$$No, not all of them.$$Okay, just a couple planes.$$The planes that crashed.$$Yeah, were the pilots well known there at the--$$I, I don't, I don't know if they were well known there.$$Okay. National tragedy, right?$$Yeah.$Okay, okay. Now what were some of the challenges I guess for women in the Navy, you know, as--that you've seen over the years? You're someone that, that kind of crashed through some barriers, you know you, you went through a couple, couple of ceilings to become a rear admiral. But, but what were some of the obstacles and maybe challenges for a woman in the, in the services as an officer in the Navy?$$Some of the, some of the challenges were for a while we were not permitted to, to, to serve on combatant vessels and not even commanding a vessel, combatant vessel. There are certain specialties that, that were not open to us. And so you know every time you take--you know there's a limit put on there as to what you can do, then that says hey, that decreases your chances for promotion. The numbers are not going to be there. The base number is, it's just not going to be there. So you know, you kind of look for, you kind of look for that niche. I found that niche in you know, communications where I could be "in direct support" of the operating forces. And you look at all the other things, you know, you know what have other people done? What's the background of those getting promoted? And, and, and you know, you, you got to work a plan and you also have to for me, I always wanted to have an option, you know. When I originally came in, I could sign up for three or four years. I signed up for three years because if I didn't like it, that fourth year would seem awfully long. So I sort of set a timeframe. I said okay, if I'm in five years, I'll shoot for twenty. But I always try to keep my options open that I could walk any time that I, that I was unhappy.$$Was there ever a time when you thought you might not, you know, you might want to--$$Yeah, there, there were times, of course. I, I preferred being out in the field, working out at the activities, you know, providing that operational support. I you know, I, I, I--if I had my druthers, I, I, I you know but headquarters has its, you know because then that gave me the big picture. But I just didn't like staff work. It wasn't my favorite. So there were times when I said I'm going, you know, it's time to pull the plug. And my husband said when it's time for you to quit or retire, you'll know it because you won't talk about it, you'll just do it.