July 2014

Judge Shirley Fulton

Judge and Business Owner

Since leaving her family’s farm in Kingstree, S.C., at the age of 16, Shirley Fulton has overcome breast cancer while breaking race and gender barriers in North Carolina.

The second-oldest of five children, Fulton came to North Carolina to attend college. After graduating from N.C. A&T University, Fulton earned a law degree at Duke University in 1980 while raising a child on her own.

Tapping into connections made in school, Fulton moved to Charlotte in 1982 and became the city’s first black female prosecutor. She was appointed District Country Judge in 26th Judicial District five years later.

Rising quickly, Fulton was elected to Superior Court in 1988, ultimately serving for 14 years. Though she was the first black female on the Superior Court bench in North Carolina, she would have preferred not to have broken the barrier.

“It made me feel shame for society that we had come that far and we were just getting black females in the role,” she said.

In 1993, Fulton began a battle with breast cancer which ultimately forced her to take a leave of absence from the bench in 1996 to undergo treatment at Duke. Returning to the court the following year, she was named the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge. She earned an MBA from Queens University in 1998 and retired in 2003.

“I guess a lot of things fell into place for me,” she said. “But sometimes I had to push them into place.”

In addition to her distinguished career as a jurist, Fulton has impacted the community and state through her work with the Mecklenburg County Court System and the Charlotte School of Law and as a leader in the revival of Charlotte’s historic Wesley Heights neighborhood.