The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to rename James Madison Memorial High School in honor of civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips.
Phillips, one of the most important civil rights figures in Wisconsin’s history, passed away in 2018. She was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s law school and the first Black woman to serve in statewide office in Wisconsin.
In 1956, Phillips became the first African-American, and first woman, ever elected to the Milwaukee Common Council. During her tenure on the Common Council, she introduced the city’s first open-housing ordinance 1962. In 1967, Vel joined Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council in leading marches for fair housing, enduring the city’s race riots, hostility and violence. She finally saw Milwaukee’s open housing bill passed two weeks after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.
The board voted 7-0 to support the name change which will be effective at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.