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Vel Phillips

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Information about Vel Phillips

Profile image of Vel Phillips

Profession

Category:
PoliticalMakers
Occupation(s):
State Government Appointee

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Fall Colors
Favorite Food:
Ice Cream
Favorite Time of Year:
September
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Camping
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
2/18/1924
Birth Location:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Profession

Category:
PoliticalMakers
Occupation(s):
State Government Appointee

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Fall Colors
Favorite Food:
Ice Cream
Favorite Time of Year:
September
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Camping
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
2/18/1924
Birth Location:
Milwaukee
See how Vel Phillips is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

State government appointee Velvalea Hortense Rodgers Phillips was born on February 2, 1924 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Russell Lowell Rodgers and Thelma Etha Payne Rodger. Growing up on Milwaukee’s South Side, she attended Garfield Avenue Elementary School, Roosevelt Junior High School, and North Division High School. There, Phillips won a prize for outstanding oratory for her speech, “The Negro and the Constitution,” which she wrote for the Elks Lodge Competition. She subsequently won a scholarship to Howard University in 1942. She earned her B.A. degree from Howard in 1946. Phillips became the first black woman to earn an L.L.B. degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1952.

Phillips became active in the NAACP and supported a redistricting referendum in 1950. Phillips lost a close race for a seat on the Milwaukee Common Council in 1953, but came back to become the first woman to win a council seat in 1956. Frequently involved in civil rights activities, Phillips introduced Milwaukee’s first open housing ordinance in 1962. In 1967, resistance to civil rights agitation turned violent when the NAACP headquarters was firebombed and the non-violent Phillips was the only city official arrested at a rally the next day. Joined by Catholic Father James Groppi and the NAACP Youth Council, Phillips led marches for fair housing in 1968, while riots swept the black community. Finally, that same year, Milwaukee’s open housing bill passed. In 1971, Phillips was appointed as the first woman to the Milwaukee County Judiciary, but lost the subsequent election to a white candidate. She then taught at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and became mentor to Black Student Union president and future member of the Common Council, Fred Gordon. In 1978, she became the first woman and first non-white to be elected as Wisconsin’s Secretary of State, making her the highest ranking female Wisconsin official in the 20th century. In 2002, Phillips was appointed “Distinguished Professor of Law” at Marquette University School of Law. She also chaired the successful congressional campaign of Gwen Moore in 2004 at age eighty. In 2006, Phillips founded the Vel Phillips Foundation which supports the work of people who are engaged in projects of social justice and change. She is also active on numerous civic boards in Milwaukee.

Phillips passed away on April 17, 2018.

Vel Phillips was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 2, 2007 and February 25, 2017.

See how Vel Phillips is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Vel Phillips' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips talks about her maternal grandparents, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Vel Phillips talks about her maternal grandparents, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Vel Phillips describes how her mother was sent from Oklahoma to Wisconsin
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Vel Phillips describes her parents' restaurant, Clara's Restaurant
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips describes her mother's education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips talks about her father's family background
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips describes her parents' marriage
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Vel Phillips remembers thinking her family was poor as a child, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Vel Phillips remembers thinking her family was poor as a child, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Vel Phillips talks about Gwendolynne Moore
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Vel Phillips describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Vel Phillips recalls earning a scholarship to Howard University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Vel Phillips describes her disciplinarian mother
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips remembers her sheltered upbringing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips recalls competing in the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips recalls her mother's reluctance to allow her to attend Howard University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Vel Phillips recalls her mother's rules for attending Howard University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Vel Phillips remembers arriving on campus at Howard University in 1942
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Vel Phillips talks about her friendship with Mamie Hansberry
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Vel Phillips describes her orientation weekend at Howard University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Vel Phillips describes her childhood education and activities
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Vel Phillips recalls serving as a mentor at Delta Theta Sigma Sorority
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips remembers honoring her third grade teacher, Margaret Borkowski
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips recalls being taught by Margaret Borkowski in the third grade
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips describes how her third grade teacher influenced her career, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Vel Phillips describes how her third grade teacher influenced her career, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Vel Phillips recalls being discouraged from the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Vel Phillips recalls composing her speech, The Negro and the Constitution
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Vel Phillips recalls being eliminated from the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips recalls a petition for her reentry to the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips remembers being readmitted to the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips remembers her winning performance in the Elks Oratorical Contest
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Vel Phillips' interview, session 2
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips recalls being ostracized by the members of the Milwaukee Common Council
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips talks about her experiences on the Common Council of Milwaukee, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips talks about her experiences on the Common Council of Milwaukee, pt. 2
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Vel Phillips remembers the support from the community during her tenure on the Common Council of Milwaukee
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Vel Phillips talks about Lloyd Barbee and Father James Groppi
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Vel Phillips talks about the racial discrimination in the television and film industries
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Vel Phillips reflects upon her political career, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Vel Phillips recalls the employment discrimination at the Common Council of Milwaukee office
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Vel Phillips talks about the governorship of Scott Walker
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Vel Phillips talks about her sons
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Vel Phillips reflects upon her political career, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Vel Phillips remembers her mother's advice on life
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Vel Phillips reflects upon her life