In 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation on interstate bus travel was unconstitutional in Morgan v. Virginia (before the local bus travel boycott in the 1955). In 1951, African Americans were just allowed to eat in the same restaurants as Caucasians, after a ruling in Washington DC. The Civil Rights Movement pioneered by names like, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and others, helped afford African Americans liberties and freedoms we see today. Doing much of their work in the southern states, there was one “freedom fighter” right here in Wisconsin during that time period that made her own mark in the history books.
Born Velvalea Hortense Rodgers, Vel achieved feats that would be challenging during today’s time, let a lone a time where voting was allowed for people of color. In 1948, Phillips was a law student at the University Of Wisconsin Madison Law School. A graduate of Howard University in 1946, she experienced racial tension while on campus, enduring until 1951 when she graduated. She became the first African American to graduate from program, along with her husband Dale Phillips. Fueled by the racial inequality of the times, she went on to become a “woman of first” throughout her stellar career. Phillips was the first black woman of the Milwaukee Common Council in 1956, the first woman or black to sit as judge in 1971, and first to sit as Secretary of State in 1978 as both African American, and woman.
On April of 2018 Vel passed away, but on September 25thher legacy continued to grow. Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton, Mayor Barrett along with law makers across the state, gathered at city hall to name 3rdfloor of the ante chamber room after the incomparable Mrs. Phillips.
“As a council we are deeply honored to dedicate this space in her memory today to the people of the city of Milwaukee, and quite frankly the world,” words by Common Council resident Ashanti Hamilton.
Hamilton then goes on to say, “I had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Phillips, and being inspired by her zeal, wit and courage”
“It is fitting that just feet away from where she sat battling housing rights for Milwaukeeans year after year, and a number of other issues.”
Mayor Barrett spoke to significance of the room saying,
“It is a beautiful formal room, but at the same time it’s a warm inviting room that allows for real discussion.” Barrett went on to say, “it embodies everything that Vel Phillips was, a warm person, but very serious person at the same time who took her role very seriously.”
Council also moved to renamed part of 4thstreet in her honor in August as well, and in the words of Mayor Barrett on the smartest moves ever. Madam Alderwoman, Judge, Secretary of State, your legacy will forever live on.