UNC’S FORGOTTEN SON
doesn’t seem so very long ago.”
He was defeated in the attorney general
race but not daunted. Phillips moved to
Raleigh with his wife, Frances, (called
Fanny) and their children, where he prose-
cuted Ku Klux Klan members for the fed-
of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the
10th Amendment, as well as the applicability of the 13th and 14th amendments to
racial discrimination in hotels and theaters
and on railroad cars); United States v. Harris
(1884) (also called the Ku Klux Case, in
which a Tennessee sheriff led a lynch mob
that beat African-American prisoners, one
fatally, which focused on the constitutional-
Samuel Field Phillips
ity of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 under
the 10th Amendment); and Ex Parte
Yarbrough (1884) (regarding the constitutionality of the 1870 act and the federal
government’s right to protect African-Americans’ voting rights).
Phillips said the doctrine of separate-
but-equal “amounts to a taunt by law of
that previous condition of their class.”
Phillips was a serious contender for
nomination to the Supreme Court, losing
in 1877 to John Marshall Harlan, who later
would write the profound, prescient dissent
— borrowing heavily from Phillips’ brief
— in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
Phillips and co-counsel Albion Tourgee
had argued that “separate but equal” is
racial discrimination and unconstitutional
under the 13th and 14th amendments.
They lost, and racial segregation, and the
violence that went with it, became in most
places the norm. It took nearly 60 years for
the Supreme Court to reverse Plessy in
Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
A Southern hero
On Nov. 18, 1903, Samuel Field Phillips
died in Washington. He was buried back in
the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery at UNC.
He easily could have had a stellar career in
North Carolina politics, secure in his standing among the Southern aristocracy,
NORTH CAROLINA COLLEC TION, LEF T; LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, ABOVE
The curious little building at the corner of Franklin and Raleigh streets (circa 1920 in this photo) was Sam Phillips’ law office. It stands next to
what were his father’s and brother’s houses as well as his own. Phillips is buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.