The Rev. Channing E. Phillips was the kind of politician who evoked sharply contrasting reactions. To his admirers, he was a man whose intellectual brilliance, eloquence and persuasiveness made him clearly superior to other politicians. His critics said he seemed aloof and lacked "the common touch."
He was the minister of the Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ at 1701 11th St. NW from 1961 to 1971 and came into political prominence by leading the District's Bobby Kennedy for President movement in 1968. Later that summer after Kennedy was assassinated, Phillips was nominated as a favorite-son candidate for president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention--the first black man ever nominated at a major party convention.
He helped found the District's Head Start program in 1967, headed the D.C. Housing and Development Corporation for many years, led the fight for District home rule in 1968, spent four years as the District's Democratic National committeeman, and finished third behind the Rev. Walter Fauntroy and former city councilman Joseph Yeldell in the 1971 election for the first District delegate to Congress.
Phillips, 54, moved to Richmond in 1974, becoming vice president of Virginia Union University. In 1978 he began his present job as congressional liaison officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities, commuting from Richmond until last year when he moved his family back to Washington. He suffered a heart attack a year ago, but says he has recovered and is maintaining a low profile.
"My energy won't allow me to get as involved as I used to," he says about politics. "I kind of miss the action, but you have to respect your body. I think the time is quite different. Some things need to be said, some people need to be motivated, some clarifications need to be made.
"At the time I got involved," he says, "I thought I could make some social changes, but in fact, politics is designed to maintain the status quo, not change it."