Last month’s column was devoted to The Joseph Keasbey Brick School and Junior College near Enfield. This column looks at the Phillips family that benefited greatly from the education they received from the instruction and cultural exposure from Bricks School.
Among various initiatives, the Brick School influenced regional economic development by encouraging land ownership and modern farm technology. John Richard Phillips and Evelyn Adams Phillips took advantage of this and purchased 46-plus acres about a half mile south of the school in order for their eight children to be educated and for him to earn income from farming. Before emancipation, John’s parents, Hilliard Phillips and Sallie Burgess Phillips, were slaves in the Whitakers section of Edgecombe County.
A part of John’s inspiration for educating his children came from his sister Sallie Phillips Smith who enrolled as one of the original students at Bricks and who graduated in 1900. Later she earned an Elementary Grade A Teaching Certificate, the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. She taught elementary school in Greenville, North Carolina, from 1901 until 1954 and served as a model for her nephews and nieces, prompting each of them to pursue an education.
John and Evelyn’s eight children were John Edward Phillips, Peter Lorenzo Phillips, Thaddeus Hilliard Phillips, Haywood Chester Phillips, Viola Pearl Phillips (Harrison), Flora Anna Phillips (Joyner), Evelyn Margaret Phillips (Norris), and Mary Juanita Phillips (Boddie).
John Edward attended the Brick elementary school and high school at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. During his second year at Howard University, Washington, D.C., he was drafted into the Army during World War I. As an adult, he co-owned and operated a tailor shop with his brother, Thaddeus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Peter Lorenzo taught school in Halifax and Nash Counties for three years following his graduation from Bricks in 1920. While in school he worked as barber. In New York City he became the manager of the YMCA barber shop, then owned and operated a barber shop in the Theresa Hotel. At that time, he was the only African-American barber on the New York State Board of Examiners for Barbers.
Thaddeus Hilliard graduated from Bricks in 1921 and attended the Army National Training School in Durham, North Carolina. After moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he played clarinet and saxophone, worked as a War Service Indefinite Distributing Clerk, and, with his brother John, owned and operated a tailor shop. On returning to Edgecombe County, he served as the Bricks Post Office Postmaster and was a member of the Edgecombe County Planning Board.
Haywood Chester graduated from Bricks high school in 1918 and served briefly in the U.S. Army. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, he became a licensed Real Estate Broker in Chicago. He later earned both L.L.B. and Juris Doctor degrees from John Marshall Law School and was admitted to the Illinois Bar. He was a charter member of the Dearborn Real Estate Board of Cook County, Illinois, and of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. He was a member of the Cook County Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the N.A.A.C.P. For many years he maintained both his real estate office and law practice.
Viola Pearl, after graduating from Bricks in 1920, taught public school in Halifax, Nash, and Edgecombe counties until 1929 when she was appointed Bricks Post Office Postmaster. She also served as Superintendent of Sunday School at Bricks and General Manager of a Co-op Store. In 1945 she married Benjamin Harrison, moved to be with him in Brooklyn, New York, and became a full-time housewife.
Flora Anna was valedictorian of her Bricks high school class and went on to graduate from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1925 and an M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1947. She taught school in Sutton’s Academy, New Bern, North Carolina, Eastman High School, Halifax County, and the Greenville City Schools, Greenville, North Carolina. She was married to Clarence E. Joyner.
Evelyn Margaret graduated from Brick Junior college, and received her B. S. degree from Shaw University. She did further study at Shaw University, North Carolina College, Elizabeth City University, Ohio State University, and East Carolina University. She taught in the Greenville City Schools for 42 years. She was married to Frank Norris.
Mary Juanita, the youngest, graduated from Bricks in 1930, then received a A. B. degree from Shaw University and an M. A. degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. She did further studies at Columbia, Tuskegee Institute, and East Carolina University. After teaching at Ransom School, Northampton County, Enfield Graded School, and the Brick Model School, she spent 28 years as general supervisor of Edgecombe Count Schools from 1948 to 1976. She was also a music teacher and served as organist for several area churches, including St. Luke’s Colored Protestant Episcopal church in Tarboro where she served for approximately 40 years. She was a founding member of the Rocky Mount-based Beta Zeta Sigma Chapter of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority. Her husband was David Boddie.
The Phillips family achieved the Bricks’ mission of uplifting and training rural African Americans during a period of limited opportunities in segregated America. Each of John and Evelyn’s children fulfilled the promise of the American dream in one way or another.
C. Rudolph Knight is a Tarboro native, a retired community college educator, and a research historian. Look for his monthly reports on Edgecombe County’s African-American history on the Community page.
Sources include: Souvenir Journal: 25th Anniversary Reunion of J. K. Brick School and Junior College. August 1974.