Rename Jackson St in honor of the late Judge Vel Phillips
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Dear Mayor Barrett,
We, the undersigned, ask you to honor the life and work of Judge Vel R. Phillips, by naming a Milwaukee street in her honor. Phillips, who in your own words you described as “a lonely warrior” and “revered by everyone who cared about social justice in our community” did more to serve the residents of this city than almost anyone else in recent memory.
While the memory of her life and passing seem fresh now, we must fight to make sure that her work is never forgotten. A trailblazer, Vel was the:
- Face of the housing desegregation movement in Milwaukee for decades
- First African American candidate to make it through the primary in a city wide election
- First woman and African American to join the City’s Common Council
- First woman judge in Milwaukee County
- First African American judge in Wisconsin
- First woman and non-white person to win statewide office in Wisconsin as Secretary of State
- First African American person to be elected to either of the major National Party organizations, having been elected to the DNC
- First woman of color to graduate from University of Wisconsin’s law school
Vel Phillips was a brilliant woman, a brilliant student, a brilliant teacher and a brilliant activist. She not only broke down barriers personally in her own life, but she smashed patriarchal and racist norms that held so many back for so long. She fought for Milwaukee so that its people could live in a diverse residential city where everyone has access to home ownership and dignity. Sadly, Milwaukee remains one of the most segregated cities in the country today, which means that it is us who must carry on Vel’s work and remember her legacy.
There is currently one street in Milwaukee, “W Philip Pl”, that extends for about 3 blocks between 55th and 60th streets on Milwaukee’s northwest side. There is currently no “Phillips St” anywhere in Milwaukee. Naming a street in her honor would be a simple, but extroardinarily meaningful gesture to everyone in our community who mourns her passing.
To that end, we the undersigned ask that you not only name a street in Milwaukee in Vel Phillips’ honor, but that you replace an existing street with her moniker. We believe that it would be highly appropriate to replace Jackson St, which was named for a slave owner and slave driver who also rose to the office of President of the United States, with Vel Phillips St.
Like many people of his time Andrew Jackson owned slaves - but he also went above and beyond the cruel norms of his era in his treatment his slaves. He was particularly committed to hunting down and punishing runaway slaves, and participated in slave driving himself. He was also extremely brutal in his treatment of Native Americans, and as President signed the Indian Removal Act. Replacing the street that is named in his honor with “Vel Phillips St” would be a meaningful way to pay homage to her legacy, and send a clear message about our country’s racist history and our commitment as Milwaukeeans to move towards a more equitable and peaceful future.
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