I've been making progress on the MATC Portrait of Milwaukee project this week, compiling into a single painting multiple images from the life of Vel Philips, 1924-2018.


Vel Philips

Attorney, Politician, Jurist, Civil Rights Activist 

Vel Phillips’ life was a series of firsts. She was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison law school and the first to win a seat on Milwaukee’s City Council. She was the first African American woman to become Secretary of State of Wisconsin, and also the first to become a judge. And she did it all at a time when many African Americans were not allowed to exercise their civil rights. In 1962, Velvalea Hortense Rodgers “Vel” Phillips proposed a Fair Housing Law, and she participated in nonviolent protests against discrimination along with Father Groppi. They led people on an historic 200 nights of marching. Riots broke out in 1967, four people were killed and Ms Phillips was arrested at a rally. Finally, in 1968, the Fair Housing Law that Vel had written six years earlier passed the city council. Throughout her life, Vel Philips remained a steadfast leader in our society as law professor and lecturer, and an active philanthropist. She also worked to elevate other leaders. Vel Philips chaired the campaign of US Rep. Gwen Moore, who became Wisconsin's first African American in the US House of Representatives. After Vel Philip's passing in 2018, at the City of Milwaukee honored her significant contributions by renaming a section of 4th Street after her.


For more information on Vel Philips:

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