Vel Phillips, First Black Judge In Wisconsin, Turns 90

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Vel Phillips at March on Milwaukee - 2007
Vel Phillips at March on Milwaukee, in 2007 Photo: Voces de la Frontera (CC-BY)

A ceremony Tuesday morning marked the 90th birthday of former Wisconsin Secretary of State Vel Phillips.

Vel Phillips remains the only African-American to win election to a statewide office in Wisconsin. Prior to being Secretary of State, she was the first African-American judge in Wisconsin, and the first black woman elected to the Milwaukee Common Council.

During her nearly 16 years as an alderperson, she was very active on civil rights and fair housing initiatives. As the council today marked her recently turning 90, Phillips urged them to support a controversial streetcar project in the city.

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“I just think it would be wonderful to have a street car rolling up and down,” Phillips said. “Our downtown is getting dreary. Not too many people there, and all of these people running around with guns and stuff: I say it would be a wonderful thing.”

Four African-Americans and two Latinos now serve on the Milwaukee Common Council, but only one of the 14 alderpersons is female. One seat is vacant. Council president Michael Murphy noted that the council members are thrilled that Vel Phillips isn’t running against any of them.

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