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Donations for Vel Phillips statue at State Capitol not at goal, says official

March on Milwaukee Digital Collection
Archives Department / UWM Libraries
Vel Phillips speaking at Milwaukee Common Council. Phillips, who passed away in 2018, would have been 99 years old on Feb. 18.

Vel Phillips, a prominent Milwaukee civil rights activist, alderperson, the first Black individual elected to statewide office in Wisconsin and the first Black judge in the state, has accomplishments that go on and on.

About 15 months ago, a state board OK'd having a statue of Phillips placed on the State Capitol grounds in Madison. At one point, the goal was to finish the project last year. Then it was this year.

Now, Dave Endres, chairperson of the fundraising task force for the statue, says the most realistic timetable is sometime in 2024.

Endres is an attorney with American Family Insurance in Madison. He says hundreds of individuals and businesses have donated money and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive. But, the current amount raised is about $325,000, about half of what is needed, just for the statue, says Endres.

"Are we happy where we're at? I would say no. Just because we're not at the full amount we see we're going to need to raise the statue. Like everything else in society, first of all, the pandemic and supply chain issues that were resultant from that, have caused a delay and a cost increase for our project like everything else," Endres tells WUWM.

Endres says the task force also still hopes to raise another two million dollars in Phillips' name, to provide scholarships for young people of color. A lot of the early donations for the statue have come from foundations in Dane County. Endres says there may be untapped opportunities in the Milwaukee area.

"Obviously, Vel did spend most of her life, her political career, her professional career in the Greater Milwaukee area. Many of her achievements were done in Milwaukee. So, I do think there is opportunity to find funding from people who either knew Vel, or knew of Vel, that were influenced, or are being influenced today by the things Vel has done," Endres says.

Endres says the understanding all along has been that no public dollars will be set aside for the project. He says he remains confident in raising the rest of the funds.

Phillips, who passed away in 2018, would have been 99 years old on the 18th of this month.

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