Joyce Phillips Austin, 1923-2016
Joyce Phillips Austin was an attorney, civil rights campaigner, anti-Apartheid activist, and one of the first African-Americans to be appointed to several key positions in the New York City and state governments. In addition to an active career in civil life, Austin served the Episcopal Church in such a diversity of ways that Bishop Paul Moore Jr. remarked in 1983, while awarding her The Bishop’s Cross, that she “gives so generously of her time when asked to serve her Church that the unwitting might be led to underestimate the role that Joyce Phillips Austin plays in the social welfare structure of our metropolitan area.”
Born in 1923, Austin graduated from Hunter College and Fordham Law School. She worked as an attorney-advisor in the New York City Office of Price Stabilization for two years before setting up in private practice in 1954 with her father, Fitzgerald Phillips, a former Parole Commissioner. That same year she worked on a bill to be put before the City Council banning discriminatory organizations from marching on city streets.
In June of 1956, Austin began her career in public service in earnest as the Executive Secretary of the New York Woman’s Council, which served the State Commerce Department in an advisory capacity. The following year she was appointed the Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the State Commerce Department, the first African American to serve there in a “key post,” according to the New York Amsterdam News of October 19, 1957. In 1959 she became the assistant to Robert Wagner, mayor of New York, and shortly thereafter served as the chair of a New York state program to support President Kennedy’s policy program in Congress. Along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, she was a member of the Public Affairs Committee of the New York Democratic organization, advising the state party chairman, and she served on the Democratic National Convention’s Committee on Credentials.
In 1968 Austin was appointed the Assistant Director of the Sheltering Arms Children’s Service, where she worked for six years, developing policy and programs and administering the operations of the Sheltering Arms Day Care Center. In 1974 she became the Executive Vice President of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, which coordinated 350 welfare agencies spanning an area from New York City to parts of New England, and in 1978 was awarded the John H. Finley Medal for in recognition for her service to the people of New York City.
Though she was a faithful and active member of St. Philip’s Church in Harlem for decades, Joyce Austin also became the first women elected to the vestry of Trinity Church, where she was instrumental in urging the parish to divest from companies that supported Apartheid in South Africa, and helped to administer the Trinity Grants Program. She also served on the Diocese of New York’s Venture Fund and on the Diocesan Council, was a deputy to General Convention, and served on Executive Council. She was also a Trustee of the General Theological Seminary, which awarded her a D.D. honoris causa in 2004.
Joyce Phillips Austin died on March 12, 2016, aged 92. [Sources]