On Monday, the Capitol and Executive Residence Board voted unanimously to erect the statue of Vel Phillips, a woman of many firsts in the history of the Wisconsin legislature on the grounds of the State Capitol.
In 1951, Philips became the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, the first Black woman elected to the Democratic National Committee in 1958, and in 1978, Philips became the first woman and the first Black person to be elected to a statewide office in Wisconsin: the secretary of state.
Philips is also credited with being the first woman and first Black person on the Milwaukee Common Council. In 1971, she became the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the state’s first Black judge. And now she will be the first person of color to be commemorated with a State Capitol statue.
The initiative to erect a statue of Philips began with a letter written by Michael Johnson, the CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County to former Wisconsin state Sen. Fred Risser and the former chairman of the State Capitol Executive Residence Board amid last year’s national and local protests regarding police brutality.
“I first wrote the letter to the chairman of the committee asking for his vote and it was those young activists that were out there protesting who gave me this idea, and they shared with me know how there was a lack of representation at the state capitol and today is a step in the right direction in making sure that that there is a representation,” Johnson said. “And for us to be the first in the country [to have a statue of Black woman on capitol gorunds], I think it’s going to open up the doors for other people of color to be represented at state capitols across the country.
“I’m just so thankful that Black kids, white kids, brown kids will be able to see representation at the state capitol.”
The statue of Phillips will be installed at the South entrance to the Capitol.
Currently, The Vel Phillips Task Force, formed last year, is raising money to construct the statue as well as funds for an endowment in Phillips’ name to financially support the educational opportunities of Wisconsin’s youth.
Yesterday, the fundraiser surpassed its goal for the statue by $8,000. The fundraiser is hoping to raise another $700,000 to endow The Vel Phillips Educational Fund.
Donations to The Vel Phillips Educational Fund can be made here.