Community leader calls for Vel Phillips statue be placed outside Wisconsin Capitol

MADISON, Wis. — Michael Johnson, the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, is asking the State Capitol Executive Residence Board to consider adding a statue of Vel Phillips, the first African American in America to be elected to a statewide office.

Johnson said in an open letter to State Sen. Fred Risser to consider adding the statue to be prominently displayed outside the Capitol. The State Capitol and Executive Residence Board is responsible for maintaining state property and furnishings of the Capitol, which includes statues.

There are currently no prominent pieces of art that reflect contributions of African Americans in the Capitol building.

As the state repairs two statues that were recently damaged during protests, Johnson asks the board to consider achievements of African Americans in Wisconsin.

Phillips was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison law school. First woman to be on Milwaukee’s City Council and the first African American judge in Wisconsin.

She was also the first African American woman in the U.S. to be elected to a statewide office by becoming Wisconsin’s first Secretary of State.

“Mrs. Phillips did this all at a time when many African Americans were not allowed to exercise their civil rights,” Johnson said. “She was intelligent, courageous, bold, fearless and worked with legislators and community organizers to pass ordinances and legislation that would improve the lives of Wisconsinites during very difficult times.”

Johnson said with the unrest in Wisconsin and in the country, he’s encouraging Risser to approve a statue at the Capitol building to honor her contributions and represent the African American community.

“The young people of Wisconsin and generations thereafter need to see that representation matters. They need to see heroes and leaders that reflect the ecosystem of our communities at large,” Johnson said.

There is also a petition asking to add a statue of Vel Phillips that is circulating.