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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.

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Photograph of MATC building by Royalbroil.


Ruth K. (Dunham) Cortell was a social studies and history teacher for Milwaukee School of Vocational and Adult Education, also known as Milwaukee Vocational and Adult Schools (MVAS), and today known as Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). Mrs. Cortell was born 31 January 1902. She graduated from University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1933. She taught at MVAS/MATC from 1933 to at least 1963. She was elected vice-president of the Wisconsin Association for Vocational and Adult Education in 1953. Mrs. Cortell wrote numerous articles in national education about her unique teaching and educational ideas. She was a strong proponent of teaching civics, history, and social studies not only in elementary and secondary schools, but in post-secondary and adult education.

Milwaukee Public Library has a small manuscript collection of Mrs. Cortell's theses, articles, and other teaching materials. This collection of research and preparation materials demonstrates Mrs. Cortell's dedication to her work as a teacher and provides a unique window on teacher preparation, continuing education for instructors, and the vocational school experience. Read the finding aid online in our Special Collections Finder database. Please contact the Humanities Department at 414-286-3061 to view these materials.

Submitted by Louise at Central.

In 1966, Roberta (Bobbi) Gibb did what no woman had ever done before: She ran the Boston Marathon, which men had been running every year since 1897. It was the first race she'd ever run, and she ran it again 1967 and 1968, winning both times, although women were not allowed to enter the race officially until 1972. Gibb received no official recognition for her wins until 1996.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, many physicians believed that strenuous physical activities were harmful to women and girls, and in 1961 the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) banned women from competing in most U.S. road races. Most people assumed women were physically incapable of running 26.2 miles, which is what Will Cloney, the race director, told Gibb when he refused her application in 1966.
The day of the race, Gibb dressed in a pair of Bermuda shorts and a hooded sweatshirt, and she hid in the bushes until she was able to blend in with a group of male runners on their way to the starting line. Less than a minute after she started running, her fellow runners realized they were running with a woman, and it didn't take much longer for the media and spectators to figure it out as well. They cheered her on to a 3:21 finish, and the next day she was all over the headlines.
The following year, Gibb wasn't the only woman who ran the Boston Marathon. Kathrine Switzer became the first registered woman to run the race, although she registered under the name "K.V. Switzer." When race officials discovered her, one of them, Jock Semple, tried to physically force her off the course and rip her number off. Her boyfriend pushed him away, though, and Switzer finished the race.
Since then, women's distance running has exploded in popularity; in 1980, women were 11% of all marathon finishers, and by 2012, they were at 42%. In 1972, the AAU finally allowed women to register for marathons, and women were able to compete in the Olympic marathon in 1984.
If you're interested in reading more about the history of women's distance running, check out Kathrine Switzer's book, Marathon Woman: Running the Race To Revolutionize Women's Sports. If you're ready to train for and run in a marathon yourself, take a look at runner Kara Goucher's book, Kara Goucher's Running for Women: From First Steps to Marathons, and if you want to read about another woman's experiences with long-distance running, you should definitely check out Rachel Toor's book, Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running.

Elisabeth @ Central

Emancipation Exhibit.jpgThe end of slavery in the United States is the most important turning point in American constitutional, political, and social history. The legacies of emancipation will be with us forever, forcing us to face who we believe we are as a people. This exhibition examines the story of Emancipation from 1850 to 1964, focusing on how, due to the persistence of African Americans, abolitionists, and politicians, the Civil War became an "abolition war"; how the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments transformed the Constitution of the United States; and how we continue to debate the legacies of slavery and emancipation and reach for the goal of equality.

Emancipation and Its Legacies is divided into five sections: Conflicting Visions of the Future of the United States: 1850-1860; War and Fugitive Slaves: 1861-1862; Emancipation: 1863; The Process of Emancipation: 1864-1865; and The Legacy of Emancipation: Civil War to Civil Rights, 1865-1964.

This exhibition was developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in partnership with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and is curated by David W. Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of History at Yale University, and Susan F. Saidenberg, The Gilder Lehrman Institute. It is available for viewing in Mozart's Grove in Central Library from March 10th through April 7th, 2014. Books on the topic are available near the exhibit.

Black Cinema Film Series : Ethnic Notions

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Ethnic Notions looks at the portrayal of African Americans in American pop culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This Emmy award-winning documentary takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing the evolution of the deeply rooted stereotypes that have fueled anti-Black prejudice. Ethnic Notions was directed by Marlon Riggs, who, in addition to being a filmmaker, was also a poet, an educator and an activist.

Ethnic Notions is being shown as a part of the Black Cinema Film Series. In collaboration with Blk-Art, History & Culture, the Washington Park Library will present award-winning documentaries highlighting African American history and achievement throughout the year. Screenings will be presented with discussion sessions and are free and open to the public.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 19th at 6pm
WHERE: Washington Park Library, 2121 N Sherman Blvd

African American History with Clayborn Benson

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Clayborn Benson at a Kwanzaa celebration. Photo provided by Clayborn Benson

In celebration of Black History Month, Milwaukee Public Library is hosting several events at multiple library locations throughout the month of February. One of these events, African American History with Clayborn Benson will be held on Wednesday, February 12th at the Martin Luther King Library.

What impact did African Americans have on Wisconsin's inception as a state? What contributions did they make to the nation's Civil Rights struggle? What famous African American personalities have visited Wisconsin? Learn about African American migration patterns, how Wisconsin became a center of northern abolitionism, and how Wisconsin laws and policies shaped life for African Americans during African American Wisconsin History with Clayborn Benson. Historian Clayborn Benson is the founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum in Milwaukee and was an award-winning photojournalist at TODAY'S TMJ4 for 39 years.

Everyone is welcome to attend this event. No reservations are necessary.

WHERE:
Martin Luther King Library
310 W. Locust St

WHEN:
Wednesday, February 12
6:00PM to 7:00PM

50th Anniversary of Beatlemania!

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The Beatles arrive at Kennedy Airport in New York, early 1964. Photograph from the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division

December 26th, 1963 was the official American release of the first two singles by The Beatles, although some sources state that their songs began playing on the radio much earlier. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" became the first number one single for the Beatles on the American charts. The B-Side single, "I Saw Her Standing There" only rose to the #14 spot, but the Beatles were here to stay.

In the early years, the Beatles mainly appealed to the shrieking teenybopper set, but as time went on they evolved from a pop sensation into a true rock band, writing songs that reflected the radical cultural shifts occurring in the mid to late 1960s.

Although they broke up in 1970, the Beatles remain one of the most successful music groups of all time. Twenty of their singles reached the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100, giving them the record for most number one hits and making them number one on Billboard's list of top 100 artists of all time.

The Milwaukee Public Library has a large collection of Beatles CDs, DVDs/VHS tapes, books and printed music. Be sure to check out a piece of history at your Milwaukee Public Library!

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