Prominent St. Louis attorney Homer Gilliam Phillips was born in Sedalia, Missouri in 1880. He was the son of a Methodist minister, but he was orphaned in infancy and raised by an aunt. Phillips’s interest in law led him to Washington, D.C. where he lived with renowned African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar while attending Howard University Law School. He also briefly worked at the Justice Department.
Upon his return to Missouri, Phillips became an active attorney and political figure in St. Louis. In 1922, he was given the prominent role of securing approximately $1 million to construct a new hospital for African Americans on the city’s North Side.
While the bond issue to fund construction of a new facility to replace St. Louis’s Barnes Hospital was approved by the voters, city officials instead attempted to force black St. Louis residents to use outdated Deaconess Hospital. Phillips led the fight against the city’s efforts and eventually persuaded leaders to create the new fully funded hospital as originally proposed in the 1922 bond measure, though construction was delayed for another decade.
On June 18, 1931, fifty-one year old Phillips left his home at 7:45 a.m. to take a streetcar to his office in downtown St. Louis. He stopped to purchase a newspaper, which he read while waiting for his streetcar to arrive. He was approached by two men. One man walked up to Phillips and struck him in the face before drawing an automatic pistol and firing several shots into him. The two, who fled to an alley afterward, were arrested for the murder, but both were released due to lack of evidence. No one was ever convicted of Phillips’s murder and no motive for the killing was ever established.
Although Phillips did not live to see the hospital named in his honor, the Homer G. Phillips Hospital was opened in 1937 to serve the city’s black population and to enable African American physicians to gain staff privileges.