Phil Carter was born in 1941 in Clay County. He attended a one-room school with one Black teacher in Barbour County. His teenage years were spent in Clarksburg where he attended segregated Kelly Miller High School and was one of the first students reassigned from his Black, neighborhood school to an all-white Washington Irving High School where he graduated in 1959.
Carter chose Marshall University to further his education and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science. He paid for his education by walking on to the basketball team and earning a full scholarship. He received All Mid-American Conference Second Team honors in 1963 and was the second Black player to start at Marshall as a sophomore – Hal Greer was the first. Carter also became the first student athlete at Marshall in 1962 with a federal appointment as a U.S. Capitol police officer in Washington, D.C.
Carter’s advocacy efforts began in 1961 in Clarksburg. He and a group of young men decided to desegregate businesses to find employment and to dine in the same restaurants as their white classmates. During these efforts, Carter and a friend from Morgan State University sat down at an all-white restaurant and were arrested, jailed and released the same day.
The first Huntington demonstration was against racially-segregated movie theaters. The Palace Theater practice was challenged by four men and five women, all Black students from Marshall and supervised by NAACP President Marshall Grayson. Desegregation was accomplished within a short period of time in 1962 for all theaters in Huntington.
In 1963, Carter and a group of students from Marshall and the Huntington area demonstrated and won court cases in Cabell Circuit Judge John Hereford’s court. This was the student-led Civic Interest Progressives (CIP), a biracial group that aimed to prevent and peacefully protest against racial discrimination by employing sit-ins, share-ins and picketing. The CIP’s efforts led to the desegregation of local businesses and restaurants, most notably Bailey’s Cafeteria and the White Pantry. Both restaurants were located in the 400 block of 9th Street.
During his time at Marshall as a student in 1962, Carter was one of nine charter founders of the Epsilon Delta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Inc. fraternity, the first Black Greek organization on Marshall’s campus. He was also a founder of the Huntington Alumni Kappa Alpha Psi chapter, making him a double chapter founder in 2012.
Carter’s student years in Huntington as an activist and athlete led to a position with the federal government’s Job Corps program at Lake Vesuvius in Ohio. In 1966, he was offered a position as trainer at both the University of California, Berkeley and University of Oklahoma. He selected Oklahoma in 1967 and staffed the Washington, D.C. office. The position gave Carter the opportunity to travel across the country and train individuals in diversity.
At the end of 1967, Carter was offered a position as executive director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the leading civil rights movement organizations.
Carter added to his resume a Ford Foundation fellowship to attend the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Social Work. He played a visible role in the community and on Pitt’s campus that allowed him to further develop and refine his organizing and community politics practices. He earned a master’s degree in social work from Pitt in 1970 and began to study at Pitt for a doctorate degree in public administration.
Carter received a regional directorship of a 23-county area in Pennsylvania, including the cities of Pittsburgh, Erie and Johnstown. A highlight of his community action regional training (CART) directorship was to provide regional leaders, managers and grassroots leaders with an opportunity to be taught by the world-renowned social justice advocate Saul Alinsky.
In 1970, Carter became a political organizer and consultant for candidates contemplating running for office or declared candidates. He also was a radio talk show host in Pittsburgh and was a delegate to the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. He later became the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly chair.
Carter’s cumulative preparation in academia and in the community led him back to Marshall in 1980, where he called for accreditation of the Social Work Department. Serving as the department’s chairperson on multiple occasions, he became the first Social Work faculty member to receive tenure in the 20-year history of the department.
Carter founded the Africana Social Work minor at Marshall in the early 2000s. Since the mid-1980s, he has taught more than 70 Africana content classes on the Black family, NAACP, community organizing, hip hop and other topics related to African-American culture and contemporary issues.
His teaching content includes at least 11 special population topics in his introductory classes, compelling students to apply knowledge, skills and values on a time-limited project. His junior-level classes demand self-reflection from an ecosystem framework and 50 hours of work with policy practitioners. He created the Tri-State Organizing Committee, which allows social work students to interact with local policymakers.
Carter refers to a sabbatical he took in 1992 to serve with the 1199-SEIU labor union in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York City as one of the most rewarding teaching and learning experiences of his career.
Carter has served four terms as president of the Huntington-Cabell branch of the NAACP. He served those four terms over three decades. At the end of the millennium, the Huntington-Cabell branch convened the largest state conference of branches in its modern history.
In 1999, The Herald-Dispatch recognized Carter as one of the “50 Top Influential Leaders in the Tri-State for the 20th Century.”
In 2011, Carter was inducted into the West Virginia All-Black School Sports and Academic Hall of Fame as a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. He also is a co-founder of the Black Legends Hall of Fame, which has recognized more than 125 Black student athletes at Marshall since 1995.
In 2017, Carter and his wife Beverly were recognized by the Fairfield community for their social justice work.
Mayor Steve Williams designated 9th Street between 4th and 5th avenues as Phil Carter Plaza during a public ceremony in November 2022 in downtown Huntington.