Department of Civil Rights Statement on the Passing of Vel Phillips
The Madison Department of Civil Rights mourns the loss of Vel Phillips, civil rights icon and Wisconsin’s first African American Secretary of State. Felicia Jones, Affirmative Action Division Manager, recalls Philips as, “integral in the progression of civil rights in Wisconsin. This is a great loss but we are dedicated to continuing the fight”.
In 1962, Phillips, a member of the Milwaukee City Council, proposed an ordinance to outlaw housing discrimination. In 1968, the Milwaukee Common Council finally approved the Fair Housing Law written by Philips, only after a federal housing law was passed. “We are indebted to pioneer women like her. Wisconsin housing discrimination awareness wouldn’t be what it is today without her”, says Equal Opportunities Division Manager Byron Bishop. Phillips was arrested at a rally following the firebombing of an NAACP office, the only city official to be arrested during the "long hot summer of 1967”. In 1978, Phillips made history as the first woman, and person of color, elected as Secretary of State in Wisconsin.
Though much of her impact was felt in Milwaukee, her legacy spans the entire state and greatly shaped the work that we do today. City of Madison Equity Coordinator, Toriana Pettaway remembers Philips, “She was ahead of her time. A forerunner…I can only aspire to be as great and committed to the field of practice as she was. Vel Phillips, what a blessed life.
” As a department, we hope to carry on the legacy that Ms. Phillips was a part of creating, in order to ensure that all people can pursue their hopes and dreams.