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Vel Phillips: Political Trailblazer From Milwaukee

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Vel Phillips visits St. Boniface Church, July 1967

Velvalea Rodgers was born on 18 February 1924 on Milwaukee's South Side. She attended North Division High School, graduating in 1942, then received a scholarship to attend Howard University. After graduation, she attended University of Wisconsin - Madison Law School. Upon her graduation in 1951, she was the first female African-American graduate of the law school. Known as "Vel," she and her husband, W. Dale Phillips, were the first husband-wife attorneys to be admitted to the federal bar in Milwaukee.

Mrs. Phillips first ran for political office in 1953, when she sought a seat on the school board. Though she lost the election, she was the first African-American candidate to make it past the primary. In 1956, Phillips ran as a candidate for alderman and won. Vel Phillips was the first woman and the first African-American alderperson in Milwaukee history.

She served on the Common Council for fifteen years, most notably introducing the Phillips Housing Ordinance, a strong citywide open housing program, four separate times between 1962 and 1967. This ordinance was finally passed in 1968 after the dramatic events of the summer of 1967, when massive civil rights protests engulfed Milwaukee. In addition to fair housing, Phillips also worked to end discriminatory practices in education and employment.

In 1971, Phillips stepped down as alderwoman. She was then appointed a Milwaukee County judge, achieving two more "firsts"; the first female judge in Milwaukee and the first African-American judge in Wisconsin. Though she lost her bid for re-election as judge, Phillips continued working as a lecturer and instructor at UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and Carroll College. In 1978, she again made history as the first woman and African American elected Secretary of State in Wisconsin.

After leaving office, Phillips continued to remain active politically and professionally. She served on several boards, was appointed "Distinguished Professor of Law" at Marquette University School of Law in 2002, and she was the honorary chair of Gwen Moore's successful congressional campaign. To continue working for equality and opportunity, Phillips created the Vel Phillips Foundation in 2006, which works on behalf of minorities through social justice, education, equal housing opportunities, and jobs.

Vel Phillips has been honored as the recipient of the Robert and Belle Case La Follette Award for Distinction in Public Service, as a Wisconsin Historical Society "History Maker," and as the namesake for a UW-Madison residence hall.

Milwaukee Public Library has many materials that document the work of Vel Phillips. There is a small collection of images in the Local History Manuscript collection (finding aid available online in our Special Collections Finder database), images in the Historic Photo collection, Common Council records, and books such as Patrick D. Jones' Selma of the North : Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee that document her role in the civil rights movement in Milwaukee. Please contact the Humanities Department at 414-286-3061 to view these materials.

Submitted by Louise at Central.

health_enrollmentlabs_banner.gifThe Health Insurance Marketplace is a new way to find coverage that fits your budget and meets your needs. Whether you're uninsured, or just want to explore your choices, the Marketplace is where to find coverage that's right for you. Join over 3 million people who have registered on the Marketplace for health insurance.

There are still a few weeks to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace which was established with the Affordable Care Act. The final deadline is March 31st for this initial enrollment period. If you miss the deadline, you will need to wait until Fall of 2014 to enroll again. The website is fully functional in English and in Spanish. Certified Application Counselors will be available to assist with exploring insurance options. No appointment is necessary.

Time: Wednesdays from 3:00-5:30 p.m. (through March 26, 2014)
Location: Central Library's Computer Training Room, 2nd floor

Go Vote Today!

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wisconsinvote_button.pngToday is election day, and it is your last chance to cast your vote for this election cycle. Many have voted early, but those of you who haven't had the chance should make your way to the polls now. Polls are open today, Tuesday November 6th from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. People who are in line to vote at 8 P.M. will get to cast their vote, so stick with it, even if the lines are long! To find out where you will vote and what you need to bring if you need to register at your polling place, look at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's My Vote Wisconsin site. There you can check to see if you are already registered to vote. If you would like to preview a sample ballot for this election, you can view it by entering your information and clicking on the link for a sample ballot for your voting district. Now that you've got the tools to vote, make sure you spread the word.

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Wisconsin_state_flag.pngToday is the day of the recall election. Your vote will help determine who will be the Governor of our fair state. If you didn't get the chance to vote early, there is still plenty of time to make your voice heard today. To see where your polling place is, enter your address into the Wisconsin Voter Public Access' search form. If you need any other information regarding the election, and any requirements for same day voter registration, look at the City of Milwaukee Election Commission's website. Now you should have everything you need to make your voice heard. Make sure you tell your friends!

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Now that you've paid your taxes....

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United_States_one_dollar_bill,_obverse.jpgIf you're wondering where your federal taxes are spent, have a look at the White House's 2010 tax receipt. You can get a specific breakdown of how much of your money is spent on different programs based on the dollar amount you paid in taxes for 2010. You can see how much goes to agricultural subsidies, Medicare, disaster relief, defense, and scientific research. There's even some accounting done for the amount spent to offer certain tax credits and deductions.

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flood.pngWith the arrival of Spring comes an increased risk of flooding for many areas in the United States. Stay prepared with for spring flooding with some advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) blog, via

  • Make a plan - Your family may not be together when a flood hits, so it's important to know how you will contact one another, how you will meet up in a safe place and what you will do in case of an emergency. Not sure where to start? has a great checklist for making your family emergency plan.
  • Get a kit - An emergency kit can be your life line after an emergency. It should sustain yourself and your family for up to three days. For flood prone areas, keeping your important documents in a sealed, airtight container will keep them safe from water damage. See other tips on getting your emergency kit in tip-top shape.
  • Know your risk - One of the most important steps of being prepared is to find out if your home is at risk for flooding. After you know your risk, check out this tool to estimate the financial impact a flood could have your home.
  • Protect your property - A final step to make sure you're prepared for flooding is to purchase flood insurance. Unfortunately, most homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Talk to your insurance provider about your policy and consider flood insurance coverage.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has a comprehensive site with information on mold, drinking water safety, utility service interuption and more. Check out their Flooding and Safety page for additional useful preparedness tips.

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13th_Amendment_Pg1of1_AC.jpgOn January 31st of 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th amendment to the constitution, which states that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Though President Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation late in 1862, it was inconsistently enforced since it only addressed the states that had seceded and were still in rebellion of the Union. The states that had already surrendered to the union were not bound to abide by the Emacipation Proclamation. Neither were those that had not ever seceded, especially border states.

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