Thursday, May 2, 2013

J.B.S. Fullilove (1912-1966)

James Beverly Shaw Fullilove
Nicknamed Hank Fullilove
Author, Musician, Army Officer, Translator, Commercial Fisherman
Born July 25, 1912, Yazoo City, Mississippi
Died May 11, 1966, Everett, Washington

A compilation of biographies is a compilation of many things, too often of tragedy. The biography of J.B.S. Fullilove is a case in point. Named for an uncle, James Beverly Shaw Fullilove was born on July 25, 1912, in Yazoo City, Mississippi. His father, Robert Eliot Fullilove, was a physician who graduated from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee, and served on the staff of the Afro-American Hospital in Yazoo City. He became medical director of that institution in 1951. J.B.S. Fullilove's mother, Maggie Christine Shaw Fullilove (1884-1918), was a singer, musician, writer, and teacher. "From all accounts," her daughter wrote, "she had a glorious voice, and my father declared that he fell in love with her when he heard her sing." That glorious voice earned her a scholarship in piano and voice at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She gave up her career when her husband graduated medical school. Thereafter, she conducted a kindergarten in her home and taught her own children piano. Her daughter, Daisy, remembered a car trip to New Orleans to attend the Metropolitan Opera on tour in a performance of Faust. James Fullilove, nicknamed Hank, "was so impressed by Mephistopheles," Daisy remembered, "that he said on the trip home, 'If I thought the devil really could sing like that, I wouldn't mind going down "there".' " By "down 'there'," young Hank Fullilove was probably not referring to New Orleans.

From an early age, J.B.S. Fullilove insisted on calling himself Hank. He reached a point where few knew his real name was James. With a reputation for being "the 'brains' of the family," Fullilove finished high school at Haven Teachers' College in Meridian, Mississippi, where his namesake, James Beverly Shaw, was president. Hank was a distinguished student and began playing tenor saxophone while in school. A 1938 voter registration list of Los Angeles residents gave his occupation as musician. His sister thought that he might have played with Jimmie Lunceford and other bands.

It's clear that J.B.S. Fullilove struck out on his own early in life. There appears to have been more than just geographic distance separating him from his family. Consequently, his biography is a little muddled. According to his sister, Daisy, Fullilove graduated from "Lincoln University" in Lincoln, Nebraska, but his enlistment record for the U.S. Army (1943) credits him with only two years of college. Fullilove lived in Los Angeles in the mid and late 1930s. In 1937, he began a commercial fishing operation. By the time he enlisted in the army on February 23, 1943, Fullilove was living in King County, Washington, and his civilian line of work was listed as "fishermen and oystermen." Fullilove's sister wrote that he completed officer training school at Oberammergau, Germany, learned German and Russian, and went into army intelligence. That could only have been after World War II ended. After leaving the army (and according to his sister), Fullilove studied marine biology at the University of Washington and "got a job as a translator in the Department of Fisheries." He had always loved the water and boats, Daisy wrote. "[I]t was no surprise for us to learn," she remembered, "that he became a skilled navigator and spent a great deal of time on his boat, fishing and writing." In fact, as I have mentioned, Fullilove was a commercial fisherman and plied the waters of the West Coast from Cape Scott, British Columbia, to Guadalupe Island, Mexico. His annual haul amounted to seventy tons of salmon and albacore and a gross income of $12,000 to $20,000. (1)

Hank Fullilove came from a distinguished family. His father and brother (also named Robert) were both physicians. (Robert's son, Robert E. Fullilove, is also a physician at Columbia University.) In addition to being a singer, musician, and teacher, Hank's mother was a writer. She authored a number of stories for The Half-Century Magazine (a magazine for black homemakers, named for its founding fifty years after the enactment of emancipation, 1866-1916). Maggie Shaw Fullilove also wrote a temperance novel, Who Was Responsible (1919). Tragically she died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Her stories have recently been reprinted and are available in paperback and electronically. Rounding out the Fullilove family was Hank's sister, Daisy Fullilove Balsley, who wrote a biographical sketch of her brother and who completed an unpublished dissertation entitled "A Descriptive Study of References Made to Negroes and Occupational Roles Represented by Negroes in Selected Mass Media," at the University of Denver in 1959.

J.B.S. Fullilove's lone story for Weird Tales was called "Ghouls of the Sea." It was published in the March 1934 issue when its author was only twenty-two years old. I have not read the story, but the title betrays his interests in things maritime. According to Daisy Balsley, Hank Fullilove wrote other stories that went unpublished. I would like to think those stories are still in existence. That might be hoping for too much.

Fullilove was married once and died without issue. Towards the end of his life he resided in Seattle. His fishing boat, tied up at Everett, Washington, was the place of his death, for on May 11, 1966, forty-seven years ago this month, James Beverly Shaw Fullilove shot himself with a .38-caliber revolver. He was fifty-three years old.

(1) The chronology here is unclear, but if I can reconstruct events according to the records I have seen, I would say that J.B.S. Fullilove: 1) Attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (?) for two years during the 1930s; 2) Lived in Los Angeles ca. 1934-1938 or so; 3) Began a commercial fishing operation in 1937; 4) Presumably married Florence E. Perry in Los Angeles, ca. 1937; 5) Moved to Washington State in the late 1930s or early 1940s; 6) Enlisted in or was drafted into the U.S. Army on Feb. 23, 1943; 7) Served in the Army until the 1950s, rising to the rank of major; 8) Continued his fishing operation after leaving the army. I don't know when he would have attended the University of Washington, but if it was after his service in the army, perhaps it was in the 1950s. 

J.B.S. Fullilove's Story in Weird Tales
"Ghouls of the Sea" (Mar. 1934)

Further Reading
If you click on several proper nouns from the article above, you can read about some of the people and places associated with J.B.S. Fullilove. I could not find anything about the author himself on the Internet.

J.B.S. Fullilove was an author and the son of the author. His mother, Maggie Shaw Fullilove, wrote for The Half-Century Magazine, and her stories from The Half-Century have recently been reprinted. These images are the only images I could find on the Internet regarding those two publications. I apologize for their poor quality.
J.B.S. Fullilove (1912-1966) on board his fishing boat, the Lincoln, probably in Washington State, where he was based. Fullilove was forty-six years old when this picture was published, making the date about 1958.

Thanks to Randal A. Everts for providing the biographical sketch of J.B.S. Fullilove authored by his sister and for the photograph.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment