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Vel R. Phillips: Certified Bad A$$

Growing up, we hear a lot about Rosa Parks, but you probably haven’t heard anything about Vel R. Phillips.

Phillips was the first woman, first Black person, and/or first Black woman to graduate from UW-Madison Law School (1951, first Black woman), serve in Milwaukee’s Common Council (1956, first woman and first Black person), become a judge in Milwaukee (1971, first female judge in Milwaukee and first Black judge in Wisconsin), and serve as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State (1978, first woman and first Black person elected to Wisconsin state office).

Basically, she broke a shit ton of barriers and was a certified bad ass doing hot girl shit day in and day out.

In 1967, after the Milwaukee Common Council rejected Phillip’s proposal to outlaw housing discrimination five times, she co-organized 200 days of marching until finally Milwaukee’s first open-housing ordinance was passed.

While she already has a street and courthouse named after her in Milwaukee, the Vel Phillips Task Force is working to put her statue at the state Capitol in Madison. Which would make her the first person of color to be memorialized there, breaking down yet another barrier.

Learn more about Vel Phillips from the Wisconsin Historical Society and this PBS documentary.


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