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News | Feb. 11, 2019

Honoring Black History Month: Air Force Maj. Gen. Rufus Billups, first African-American DGSC commander

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs

Along a stretch of wall on the first floor of the Operations Center on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia are the photos of the past 31 commanders.   


Along the top row is a picture of the late Air Force Brig. Gen. Rufus Billups. He served as commander of DSCR when it was named Defense General Supply Center from 1975 through 1978. An achievement only dwarfed by the fact that Billups was the first African-American to hold this title.


When he arrived at DGSC, the installation was facing an Equal Employment Opportunity discrimination complaint brought by Lillie Mae Brown, a systems analyst and African American, in May 1974. This would become a historic class action lawsuit.


Brown alleged that the installation discriminated against her on the basis of gender, age and race. With her allegation, others emerged with their own testimonies and on August 26, 1975, the class action lawsuit was put into motion. Two years later, on September 19, 1977, a court decree was issued paving the way for great advancements in equality for DSCR employees.


Brown was inducted into the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011 and the DLA Hall of Fame in 2018.


According to DLA Aviation Hall of Fame records, “Brown was not just a true leader, but an icon in Bellwood history.”


Billups was adamant about fulfilling the terms of the agreement by increasing the number of women and minorities in trainee, middle- and high-grade positions.


He was the first to institute the upward mobility program to allow wage-grade employees to be converted to and/or compete for general schedule positions. Because of his commitment to enhancing the educational and skill levels of the work force, he was the first to offer a 100 percent tuition reimbursable program and to have college courses offered at the center. In addition, it was under his leadership that the first master’s degree program was offered here.


Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1928, Billups graduated from Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He was in the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Tuskegee and was commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation.


He would go on to receive a master's degree in business administration from the University of Colorado, Denver, Colorado, in 1957 and an honorary doctorate from Guadalupe College, Sequin, Texas in 1974.


Billups served in the Air Force for more than 30 years, rising to the rank of major general in 1978, before retiring in 1980. He passed away on Jan. 30, 1996.


Billups was inducted into the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006. His contributions to the center are evident throughout DSCR today because he laid the foundation for diversity and employee development.