Wisconsin civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips dies

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Vel Phillips, a civil rights pioneer who helped lead open housing marches in Milwaukee in the 1960s and was the first black person elected to a Wisconsin statewide office, has died. She was 94.

Phillips died Tuesday while in hospice care at a Mequon hospital, said her son, Michael Phillips.

Vel Phillips blazed a trail for minorities and women as the first black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin law school. She was also the first woman and first African-American elected to the Milwaukee Common Council, where she kept introducing an ordinance to outlaw housing discrimination every 90 days for seven years until it was finally adopted in 1968.

After leaving the Common Council in 1971, she was appointed as the first female judge in Milwaukee County and first black judge in Wisconsin.

In 1978, Phillips made history as the first woman and first minority elected Wisconsin Secretary of State, a job she held until 1983.

Phillips’ social justice work is well known, but she left a less public legacy in the lessons she taught her children.