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Vel Phillips statue effort gets a big financial boost

Vel Phillips statue effort gets a big financial boost

Vel Phillips

Vel Phillips was the first African American woman to graduate from the UW-Madison School of Law, earning her degree in 1951. She became a leader in the civil rights movement and Wisconsin’s first African American secretary of state.

New donations to an effort to place a statue honoring Wisconsin civil rights leader Vel Phillips on the grounds of the state Capitol have pushed the effort beyond halfway to its fundraising goal.

The Vel Phillips Statue Task Force announced Thursday that it has received $100,000 in donations from the Madison Community Foundation and Rennenbohm Foundation.

The announcement, which came on Phillips’ birthday, brings the total raised so far to $126,461 toward a goal of $250,000.

The bronze statue would make Phillips the first person of color to be memorialized at the Capitol in Madison.

Phillips, who died in 2018, experienced many “firsts” in her lifetime. She was the first Black woman to graduate from the UW-Madison Law School, the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first Black judge in Wisconsin.

She was also the first female and Black person elected to statewide office in Wisconsin as secretary of state.

“She served Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin in so many trailblazing roles,” said Noble Wray, a member of the Rennebohm Foundation’s board. “We hope that the statue will serve as a beacon of light for social justice, human dignity and fundamental fairness for all people.”

The Department of Administration is expected to vote in March on final approval for the project. A national request for proposals will go out this spring to artists, and that statue is expected to be created this year and installed in early 2022.

Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, started pushing for the statue this summer in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests over police brutality. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers created an advisory committee in December to work on the idea.

Meanwhile, restoration work on two Capitol statues — one of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg, the other of a woman symbolizing Wisconsin’s “Forward” motto — that protesters tore down during the demonstrations should be done by July. The repairs are expected to cost a combined total of about $81,600, administration officials said.

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