Phillips Law Office
This building held the law offices of Samuel Field Phillips starting in 1843-just two years after receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina. Like a number of progressive white residents, Phillips opposed secession and supported the Republican Party during Reconstruction. In 1872, Phillips became Solicitor General of the United States and worked to uphold the constitutionality of the Enforcement Act--a law passed by his fellow Republicans in Congress to confront the growing threat of terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. He also supported black petitioners who sought to secure convictions under the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and helped represent Homer Plessy in the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case. Although Phillips and Plessy lost this case, his legal arguments helped attorneys in the next century.
Backstory and Context
In the 1890s, Phillips joined the more famous white Southern progressive attorney Albion Tourgee in representing Homer Plessy in the famous case that challenged segregation. Despite the legal arguments presented by Tourgee, Phillips, and other counselors, the Supreme Court declared that segregation was legal so long as "separate but equal" accommodations were provided to white and black patrons.
Phillips retired from law in 1900 and passed away three years later. He is buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery-not far from his law practice or beloved alma matter.