By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Feb 28, 2021 at 12:01 PM

This article originally ran in 2019.

Velvalea Hortense Rodgers "Vel" Phillips – a lawyer, judge, politician, Civil Rights activist and lifelong Milwaukeean – passed on April 17, 2018 at the age of 95. Later in the year, Milwaukee renamed North 4th Street, from St. Paul Avenue to Capitol Drive, "Vel R Phillips Avenue" in her honor.

"The street's renaming will serve as a memorial to Vel R. Phillips' advocacy for social justice, fair housing and civil rights," said Ald. Milele Coggs in a statement at the time.

Here are five things to know about this extraordinary trailblazer and something to remember next time you attend an event at the Fiserv Forum, see a concert at Turner Hall or stop for barbecue at Doc's Commerce Smokehouse – all located on this significant street. 

There’s so much to learn about Phillips' life and legacy, but here are five of her "firsts" that positively impacted Milwaukee forever.

  1. Vel Phillips was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison law school. 
  2. Vel Phillips was the first African American and first female Secretary of State in Wisconsin.
  3. Vel Phillips was the first African American judge in the state of Wisconsin.
  4. Vel Phillips was the first female judge in Milwaukee County.
  5. Vel Phillips was both the first African American and first female alderperson elected to the Milwaukee Common Council.

And to learn more about about Vel Phillips' contributions to Milwaukee and Wisconsin, check out her documentary, "Dream Big Dreams," screening for Black History Month at the Oriental Theatre on Monday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.