Lillian E. Fishburne, the first African American woman to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, was born on March 25, 1949 in Patuxent River, Maryland. Fishburne was raised in Rockville, Maryland where she attended Richard Montgomery High School. In 1971, she graduated from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. In February 1973, Fishburne became an Ensign after graduating from the Women Officers School at Newport, Rhode Island.
Fishburne’s first naval assignment was at the Naval Air Test Facility, Lakehurst, New Jersey, as a Personnel and Legal Officer. From August 1974 to November 1977, Fishburne was an Officer Programs recruiter in Miami, Florida. For the next three years, 1977 to 1980, Fishburne was the Officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Base.
Fishburne earned her Master of Arts in Management from Webster College in St. Louis, Missouri in 1980 and for the next two years was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In 1982, Fishburne earned her Master of Science in Telecommunications Systems Management at the Naval Postgraduate School. After graduating, Fishburne served for two years at the Command, Control, Communications Directorate for the Chief of Naval Operations.
Fishburne held assignments in Japan, Washington, D.C., and Key West, Florida for the next decade. In December 1994, she became Chief of the Command and Control Systems Support Division for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. She then served as commander of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 1995 to 1998. On February 1, 1998, she attained the rank of Rear Admiral and was promoted by the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.
After three years as the Director of the Information Transfer Division for the Space, Information Warfare for the Chief of Naval Operations, in Washington, D.C., Fishburne retired in February 2001. Her decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, two Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals, and the Navy Achievement Medal. Fishburne is married to Albert J. Sullivan, a native of Daytona Beach, Florida. They have a daughter named Cherese.