Phillip B. Curls Sr.

Phillip B. Curls Sr.
Curls (Photo Credit: The Black Archives of Mid-America)


Longtime Missouri legislator and political activist Phil Curls Sr., worked tirelessly to bring positive change to the lives of his Black constituents.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Curls graduated from De La Salle Military Academy and earned a degree in business administration from Rockhurst College (now Rockhurst University). His father, Fred Curls, owned a real estate company and co-founded Freedom, Inc., a Black political organization, in 1962.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Phil Curls became a real estate broker and appraiser. He was also active in Freedom, Inc., originally as a founding member of the Young Freedom group in 1963 and later serving as president from 1986 to 1994. During his tenure, Freedom, Inc., helped elect the city’s first Black congressman, Alan Wheat, and first Black mayor, the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II.

Curls entered state politics in 1972, when he was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives. More than a decade later, in 1983, he was voted into the state Senate.

Known as a savvy politician and consensus builder, Curls was instrumental in passing legislation aimed at improving housing, education, healthcare, and child and family services. He held leadership positions with the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and was president of the caucus’s foundation, which provided scholarships and internships to disadvantaged youth.

Curls was a key sponsor of the Missouri Child Care Development Act, which better regulated and coordinated child care services statewide. He also backed legislation that led to the funding of the Truman Sports Complex, Bartle Hall, the Bruce R Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, and other major development projects.

Due to health concerns, Curls retired from politics in 1998 and focused on affordable housing projects on Kansas City’s East Side. He died in 2007, at age 67, from complications arising from diabetes.

More than 1,000 people attended his funeral on May 11, 2007. Cleaver, then serving his second term as U.S. Representative of Missouri's 5th Congressional District, presided. The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation later established the Phil B. Curls, Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund in his honor.