4th St. Will Become Vel. R. Phillips Ave.
Major downtown street to be renamed for Milwaukee leader and civil rights pioneer.
Phillips passed away at the age of 94 last week. She was a pioneer in Milwaukee and Wisconsin politics.
Phillips was the first black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School. With her husband W. Dale Phillips, they became the first husband-and-wife team admitted to the federal bar. In 1956, she became both the first woman and first African American elected to the Common Council. She resigned from the council in 1971 when she was appointed to Milwaukee County Circuit Court, becoming the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first African American judge in Wisconsin. In 1978 Phillips became the first woman elected to the office of Secretary of State. She is the only African American to ever win a statewide election. She was the first African American appointed to the national committee of either major political party. She was, for a brief period, the acting Governor of Wisconsin, the first woman and first African American to do so.
“You could line up 30 adults that in their lifetime were not able to accomplish what one Vel Phillips did,” Coggs told members of the Public Works Committee. The committee unanimously endorsed the proposal.
N. 4th St. wasn’t chosen at random. Phillips, who had requested a street be named in her honor, is well connected to N. 4th St. She went to elementary school at the former Garfield Avenue School, now an apartment building, which is located on 4th St., she attended church at St. Marks and was later married in the church when it was on N. 4th St. and she represented the street during her time on the Common Council.
“There isn’t a community in the city that hasn’t been touched by her contributions,” said Common Council president Ashanti Hamilton. The alderman said he hopes anyone that is inconvenienced by the renaming is able to recognize the inconveniences that Phillips had to endure during her career.
The renaming isn’t without precedent; past examples include renaming a portion of N. 7th St. after astronaut James Lovell and N. 3rd St. after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The measure is sponsored by 12 of the 15 members of the Common Council. Co-sponsors include Coggs, Robert Bauman, Mark Borkowski, Robert Donovan, Hamilton, Cavalier Johnson, Nik Kovac, Chantia Lewis, Michael Murphy, Jose G. Perez, Khalif Rainey and Russell W. Stamper, II.
The renaming still needs confirmation from the full Common Council.
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