Phillips led the Urban League chapter in Grand Rapids through the turbulent civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, serving as a calm and strong force against racial discrimination. A state record-setter in track, Phillips earned a scholarship to Marquette University and later got his master’s degree at Fisk. When Phillips took over the Grand Rapids Urban League in 1946, most restaurants refused to serve blacks, and they were denied skilled jobs and red-lined into poor neighborhoods. But using patient persuasion – ”an inch here and an inch there” – he changed attitudes. “Patiently, doggedly, intelligently, he countered every argument against integration, dissuaded those who called for violence, did his homework, kept his finger on the pulse of his town, and slowly became the single most important force for racial justice Grand Rapids has ever known,” Monsignor Hugh Beahan wrote upon Phillips’ death in 1976. In 1972, Phillips received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Grand Valley State College. Phillips also became the first African-American elected to the school board in Grand Rapids, held several other local offices and advised President Gerald R. Ford on matters of race. His legacy lives on in Grand Rapids, where the recreation center at the Boys and Girls Club is named in his honor.
Paul passed away in 1976 at the age of 62.