Philip Augustus White

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Philip attended the Laurens Street School where Peter Guignon’s former classmate, Charles Reason, was the principal teacher. After graduating, he apprenticed in Patrick Reason’s engraving shop until it became apparent that he had no talent in this area. Philip then began an apprenticeship in the pharmacy of James McCune Smith, and at the same time attended the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York from which he graduated in 1844, the first black man to do so. In 1847, he opened his own drugstore in Lower Manhattan. Initially an unpretentious endeavor, it grew into a large retail business to which Philip eventually added a successful wholesale department. Over time, Philip gained admission to the city’s major professional pharmaceutical societies.

With the money he made, Philip generously gave back to the community. He was a devoted member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. When St. Philip’s gained admission to the Episcopal Diocesan Convention in 1853, Philip was one of the three delegates seated. As a member of vestry and then as senior warden, Philip oversaw the church finances, buying and leasing properties for profit, and helping the church move to new locations.

Philip was equally dedicted to improving the education of black children. He served for many years as secretary of the New York Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children. After he moved to Brooklyn, then Mayor Seth Low appointed Philip to the Brooklyn Board of Education in 1883. Occupying the "colored seat" on the Board, Philip successfully lobbied for the integration of Brooklyn's public school system while insisting that the black community be able to retain its three existing schools whose teachers were all African American.

Philip was also a member of the Academy of Sciences and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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“Philip Augustus White,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,