In Memoriam: Philip G. Hammer (1915-2000)

By Calvin Kytle

Vol. 22, No. 1, 2000, p. 34

Philip Gibbon Hammer, a pioneering urban planner and an influential figure in the movement to end segregation in the South, died January 21 in Edgewater, Maryland. He was 85.

Philip Hammer served as an organizer and supervisor of the ad hoc team that produced the research material from which Pulitzer-Prize winning editor Harry Ashmore fashioned "The Negro and the Schools." Published in 1954 one day before the U.S. Supreme Court rendered the Brown decision, the book gave Southern leaders indispensable and immediate policy guides for desegregation of the public schools.

In Atlanta during the fifties, Hammer served on the boards of the exclusively-white Chamber of Commerce as well as interracial organizations like the Urban League and the Southern Regional Council.

Phil Hammer belongs to a generation of Southern progressives who fought for equality and justice at a time and place when for a white person merely to shake hands with a black American was to rick social ostracism and the loss of a job," said presidential adviser Vernon Jordan Jr., a friend since their days together in Atlanta. "The civil rights movement of the sixties owes more than historians can ever document to the courage and political skills with which he and the other members of this white minority attacked institutionalized race prejudice after World War II."

Hammer was born on September 18, 1914, in Philadelphia, but five years later the family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. He went to public schools in Wilmington and grew up in a typical white middle class Southern environment. He attributed his social awakening to his experiences in the mid-thirties as a political science major at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, then under the gentle presidency of Frank Porter Graham, an early civil rights advocate.

Hammer successfully pursued interwoven careers in business and public service. He moved to Atlanta in 1947 and became chief staff officer of a commission to study the extension of the city limits and the merger of municipal and county facilities. He launched his own firm in 1954 and became an urban adviser to successive, politically disparate administrations in Norfolk, Savannah, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington, and St. Louis. In 1968 President Johnson appointed him chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, a position he also held under President Nixon.

To many of his friends, Phil Hammer's most significant work occurred out of the spotlight, as a facilitator and quietly effective mediator. In 1960 he introduced Harold Fleming, then executive director of the Southern Regional Council, to a client, philanthropist Stephen Currier. The result was the formation of Washington's Potomac Institute, the first of whose many achievements in race relations was to develop the strategies that ended workplace discrimination in defense industries during the Kennedy administration.

Phil Hammer is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jane Ross Hammer of Edgewater, Maryland, three sons, and four grandchildren.