J. William Fulbright (1905-1995) was a prominent and gifted American statesman of the 20th century. His unequaled contribution to international affairs and his tenure as the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee distinguished his political career of over thirty years in the United States Congress. He had profound influence on America's foreign policy, and his vision for mutual understanding shaped the extraordinary exchange program bearing his name.
James William Fulbright was born on 9 April 1905 in Sumner, Missouri. He was educated at the University of Arkansas where he was awarded a BA degree in Political Science in 1925. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar where he received an MA degree. When Fulbright returned to the United States, he studied Law at George Washington University in Washington, DC. During the 1930s, he served in the Justice Department and was an instructor at the George Washington University Law School. In 1936 he returned to Arkansas where he was a lecturer in law and, from 1939 to 1941, president of the University of Arkansas, the youngest university president in the country at the time. He entered politics in 1942 and was elected to the US House of Representatives, entering Congress in January 1943 and becoming a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In September of that year, the House adopted the Fulbright Resolution supporting an international peace-keeping machinery and encouraging US participation in what became the United Nations. This brought national attention to Fulbright. In November 1944 he was elected to the US Senate and served there from 1945 through 1974, becoming one of the most influential and best-known members of the Senate. His legislation establishing the Fulbright Program slipped through the Senate without debate in 1946. Its first participants went overseas in 1948, funded by war reparations and foreign loan repayments to the United States. In 1949 Fulbright became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From 1959-1974 he served as chairman, the longest serving chairman of that committee in history. His Senate career was marked by some notable cases of dissent. In 1954 he was the only Senator to vote against an appropriation for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was chaired by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. He also lodged serious objections to President Kennedy in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
He was particularly in the spotlight as a powerful voice in the chaotic times of the war in Vietnam, when he chaired the Senate hearings on US policy and the conduct of the war. After leaving the Senate, he worked as a lawyer in Washington, DC and remained active in support of the international exchange program that bears his name. Senator J. William Fulbright died on 9 February 1995 at the age of 89. His commitment to international cultural understanding lives on in the spirit and legacy of the Fulbright Program and its alumni.