Michael Johnson, Dane County Boys & Girls Club president and CEO, proposed the idea of honoring Phillips and her accomplishments following the protests and demonstrations over the summer. Damage to two existing statues — one of Civil War-era Wisconsin abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg and the “Forward” statue symbolizing the state’s motto — occurred during the civil unrest.
Johnson described hearing from young people of color how they felt there was a lack of representation, so he got to work and created a community group to push for a statue of Phillips — a political and groundbreaking icon in Wisconsin.
[Proposal to create statue honoring Wisconsin political leader Vel Phillips advances]
Phillips, who died in 2018 at 95 years old, was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, be elected to the Milwaukee City Council and become a judge in Wisconsin.
She also served one term as secretary of state from 1979 to 1983, which was the highest elected office a Black person held here until Mandela Barnes was elected lieutenant governor in 2018.
“We’re hoping that as you consider giving and as you consider the possibility of this statue, it’s not just so we can add another first to her name, but it’s because some young person, some older person that didn’t have opportunity will drive by it and say, ‘Who is that?’” said Millie Coby, Phillips’ goddaugher. “And they will hear the story and be imparted with hope and opportunity and (optimism) about their life.”