Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Phillips, Channing E.(1928–1987) - Minister, civil rights activist, Chronology

Academic Career and Preparation for the Ministry

phillips church delegates university

As a young man, the multi-talented Phillips had trouble deciding upon a career. He served in the United States Air Force from 1945 to 1947 and left with the rank of sergeant. He won a scholarship in painting and sculpture to attend the Carnegie Museum and Carnegie Institute of Technology. From there, he went to the University of Utah to study electrical engineering. Phillips ended up at his father’s alma mater, Virginia Union University, where he majored in sociology and finished an A.B degree in 1950. He then went on to earn a B.D. from Colgate Divinity School in Rochester, New York, in 1953. Phillips advanced to Drew University Graduate School in New Jersey with a fellowship to study the New Testament from 1955 to 1957 as a doctoral candidate.

After he left Drew, Phillips was an instructor on the New Testament at Howard University in Washington, D.C. from 1956 to 1958; visiting lecturer in Greek at the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia in 1958; and visiting lecturer in New Testament at the American University in Washington, D.C. from 1957 to 1958, where he also held a interim minister position at the Plymouth Congregational Church. He met and married Jane Celeste Nabors in 1956. Eventually they became the parents of five children: Channing, Sheila, Tracy, Jill, and John.

During 1958, Phillips returned to New York City for an appointment as associate minister at Grace Congregational Church and later served as pastor at the Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church in Jamaica, Long Island, New York from 1959 to 1961. Phillips relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1961 when he accepted the senior pastor position at the historic Lincoln Memorial Congregational Temple United Church of Christ, where he remained until 1970.

Phillips reportedly left Lincoln Memorial when some church members complained about the amount of time and energy he was investing in critical social problems. The disaffected church members may have felt that Phillips was neglecting his ministerial duties to focus on his job as executive director for the Housing Development Corporation of Washington, D.C, a post he had retained since 1967. Phillips was also active in religious and fraternal organizations. In 1964, he held memberships in the National Association of Bible Instructors, the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Phillips was against the Vietnam War, and he protested against it and participated in peace movement programs. He ardently supported the civil rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1964. A staunch Democrat, he worked as a committeeman from 1968 to 1972. His high profile activism brought him to the attention of Robert F Kennedy, who requested that Phillips chair his presidential campaign in the District of Columbia. Phillips proved the candidate’s confidence in him by capturing all of the Democratic delegates for Kennedy.

Kennedy’s presidential bid came to a tragic end when he was assassinated while campaigning in California in June of 1968. When the delegates who had pledged to support Kennedy assembled at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to nominate a president and vice president, many were still in mourning. Kennedy, who had represented the liberal wing of the party, had put together a strong coalition of minorities, labor interests, anti-war protesters, and civil rights activists. These delegates were in no mood to ally with the remaining democratic presidential candidates, Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention was an important watershed in black political history. It had the highest attendance of black delegates up until that time, 209, and these blacks, bolstered by gains made in the civil rights struggle, asserted themselves. They challenged the credentials of the regular party delegates from several southern states. Only the contesting of the Georgia delegation was successful. It divided its votes between a racially mixed liberal coalition and a regular (all white) delegation.

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