Vel Phillips, civil rights icon, dies at 94

Attorney served as Wisconsin secretary of state

By Voces de la Frontera from Milwaukee, USA via Wikimedia Commons

Vel Phillips, a civil rights pioneer and the first black person elected to a Wisconsin statewide office, died Tuesday. She was 94.

Phillips, a leader of the open housing marches in Milwaukee in the 1960s and the first black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin law school, was in hospice care at Mequon hospital, according to her son, Michael Phillips, The Associated Press reported.

Phillips was the first woman and first African-American elected to the Milwaukee Common Council, the AP reported. There, she was persistent about eliminating housing discrimination, introducing an ordinance every 90 days for seven years to ban it -- until the measure was adopted in 1968, the AP reported.

She was the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first black judge in the state, the AP reported. She served as the state's secretary of state 1979-1983.

Gov. Scott Walker issued a statement about Phillips' death, the AP reported. Walker planned to lower the flag in her honor.

“She was a legend in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin, not only for her many firsts but for her passion. It was an honor to get to know her when I was the (Milwaukee) County Executive,” Walker said.

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