Phillips As An African American Last Name

The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 61,661 black Americans with Phillips as their last name. That represented 17% of the total of 360,802 entries.

This article tracks their numbers in the census since the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Phillips.

We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.

After The Civil War

The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1850 and 1860, only free African Americans were recorded in the census. The many enslaved were omitted.

From 1870 onward, all black Americans were included.

5,264 people named Phillips were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 737 as mixed.

There was a total of 44,832 people with the name.

Phillips In The 1900 And 1940 Census

The mixed category was dropped from the census in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.

The 1900 census recorded 10,241 people with the last name Phillips as black within a total of 85,804 that year.

By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.

This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.

The 1940 census recorded 18,520 people named Phillips as black within a total of 174,639.

Historic Black Figures With The Phillips Surname

Here are some notable African Americans in history with Phillips as their last name.

Homer Phillips

  • Born: About 1876
  • From: Sedalia, Missouri
  • Died: 1931

Homer Gilliam Phillips studied law at Howard University. He then established a successful law practice in St Louis. He got involved in politics and was prominent in promoting housing and health services for African Americans.

Phillips was a co-founder of the Citizen’s Liberty League, an organization that promoted black interests within the Republican Party. Joseph Mitchell was another co-founder.

He led the campaign to build a replacement for the dilapidated hospital that served the black community. He was murdered in 1931 before the building was completed.

Two men shot him while he read a newspaper on the street. Nobody was ever convicted.

The Homer G Phillips Hospital was named in his honor when it opened eight years later.

Vel Phillips

  • Born: 1924
  • From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Died: 2018

Velvalia Rodgers won a scholarship to study at Howard University in Washington D.C. which was segregated at the time. When she was told to leave worship at a church she attended with some white friends, she got involved with the NAACP.

She married Dale Phillips, and both graduated from the University of Wisconsin law school together. They opened a legal practice in Milwaukee.

Vel Phillips won a seat on the Milwaukee town council in 1956. She was the first African American to do so. As an active member of the NAACP, she was arrested at a peaceful rally after the organization’s office was firebombed.

In 1971, she became the first African American judge in Wisconsin. Seven years later, she was elected Secretary of State in Wisconsin.

Amongst her many other accomplishments, she was the Distinguished Professor of Law at Marquette University.

Phillips In Black Military Records

Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Phillips surname from several different military services.

Buffalo Soldiers

Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.

One of the earliest military entries for Phillips was in July 1867. Andrew Phillips was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in July 1867 at Fort Hacker.

One of the later entries was in June 1914. Joseph Phillips was a Sergeant in the Ninth Cavalry.

If you are researching military ancestors, there is a free index of these records on and

You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.

Black Civil War Sailors

The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.

The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.

You can search the database on the National Parks website.

William H. Phillips

One of the earliest entries for Phillips was for William H. Phillips from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in December 1861 at New York when he was aged 19.

The record shows that William H. was assigned on September 1863 to the ship Shenandoah.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook. His naval rank was Landsman.

“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.

Gilbert Phillips

One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at Cairo in November 1864. Gilbert was aged 20 and was from Richmond County, Virginia.

He was assigned to the ship Lafayette on July 1865.

His occupation before enlisting was as a Waiter/Fireman. His naval rank was 1st Class Boy.

“1st Class Boy” was the rank given to young men who enlisted when they were under eighteen.