Lillian Fishburne, U.S. Navy’s first African-American female rear admiral

Theodora Aidoo May 2, 2020 at 10:00am

May 02, 2020 at 10:00 am | Women

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

May 02, 2020 at 10:00 am | Women

Lillian E. Fishburne, the first African-American woman to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy---(U.S. Navy photo)

Lillian Fishburne is one of the many pioneering black servicemen and women who have made positive contributions to the nation’s armed forces while serving. In 1998, she became the first African-American woman to hold the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.

Fishburne is “a woman whose story helps us to understand the truth that women are an indispensable part of today’s military,” then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen said whilst delivering a speech at an occasion honoring, among others, Rear Adm. Fishburne in 1998.

Fishburne was born a year after the integration of minorities and women in the military. She was born into a naval family in Patuxent River, Maryland, on March 25, 1949. Raised in Rockville, Maryland by an active-duty father, Fishburne attended Richard Montgomery High School. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Lincoln University in 1971. She then spent two years at the Women Officers School at Newport, Rhode Island, becoming an ensign after graduating in February 1973.

Fishburne’s first naval assignment was serving as personnel and legal officer at the Naval Air Test Facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey. She went on to act as an Officer Programs recruiter in Miami, then as the officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Base.

 Lillian Elaine Fishburne
RADM Lillian Elaine Fishburne, USN (Ret) – U.S. Navy photo

Fishburne studied to earn her Master of Arts in Management from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri in 1980. She also attended the Naval Postgraduate Monterey, California, graduating with a Master of Science in Telecommunications Systems Management in 1982.

Subsequently, Fishburne served at the Command, Control, Communications Directorate for the Chief of Naval Operations for two years. She was appointed to positions of an executive officer at the Naval Communications Command in Yokosuka, Japan, and special projects officer for the Navy’s Command, Control.

Fishburne was eventually selected for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. In December 1994, she became Chief of the Command and Control Systems Support Division for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. 

She also served as commander of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 1995 to 1998 before making history on February 1, 1998, when she attained the rank of Rear Admiral and was officially promoted by then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.

She worked for three years as the Director of the Information Transfer Division for Space, Information Warfare for the Chief of Naval Operations, in Washington, D.C., and retired in February 2001.

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