The Milwaukee Common Council voted unanimously on May 8 to rename a portion of North Fourth Street as North Vel R. Phillips Avenue, honoring Milwaukee’s first African-American and first female Alderperson.
Phillips died on April 17 at the age of 94. She led the open housing marches in Milwaukee during the 1960s, and was also the first black person elected to a state office in Wisconsin. Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs introduced the legislation, which was also unanimously recommended for passage by the Public Works Committee on April 25.
“The legacy of Vel Phillips, her incredible courage and commitment, has shaped our community’s history, and it is past due time to make this small tribute to such a large figure in Wisconsin and this nation’s history,” said Alderwoman Coggs. “North Vel R. Phillips Avenue will serve as a reminder of her contributions to the betterment of the community and the voice she used to advocate for others.”
The legislation designated the name change from West Saint Paul Avenue to West Capitol Drive. The street renaming will serve as a memorial to Vel Phillips, for her advocacy of social justice, fair housing and civil rights, her groundbreaking career, and her lasting legacy in the Milwaukee community.
North Fourth Street was significant in the life of Phillips. She attended Garfield Elementary School and St. Marks Church on that street, and went on to represent the area as Alderwoman for the 6th District.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive runs parallel to North Fourth Street, reflecting the collaboration and friendship between the two civil rights leaders of their time.
“The unanimous vote of my colleagues is a demonstration of the tremendous impact that Ms. Phillips had on each of us, and I am grateful for their support. Thank you to each of the community groups, residents, and businesses who have shown their support for this street renaming,” added Alderwoman Coggs. “Although we are saddened and suffered a great loss with her passing, this also creates an opportunity to honor her legacy, while providing a reminder of the work we must continue to do.”
Located across from the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Turner Hall is one of the oldest non-residential properties on North Fourth Street. Founded in 1853 by immigrants and refugees from Germany, the Milwaukee Turners became strong abolitionists and allies of Frederick Douglass.
“We would be honored include the name of Vel Phillips in the address for our historic building,“ said Arthur Heitzer, Milwaukee Turner President.