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Petition pushes for African-American representation among state Capitol statues

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Vel Phillips
MGN Online

MADISON (WKOW) -- An open letter and online petition are pushing Wisconsin leaders to diversify the Capitol Building's statues by adding a likeness of the first African-American to hold statewide office.

Michael Johnson, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County sent an open letter to Sen. Fred Risser Tuesday making the case that the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board should construct a statue to Vel Philips, an African-American and former Secretary of State.

"I was informed by a group of young people and Capitol staff that there are no prominent pieces of art that reflect the contributions of African Americans in the Capitol building," Johnson wrote. "African Americans have provided leadership in our state for more than 150 years, and it’s time to ensure the Capitol celebrates that leadership and display the diversity that our state has to offer."

Johnson highlighted Philips' achievements, like becoming the first African-American woman to graduate from UW-Madison's law school, her elections as the first woman on Milwaukee's city council and the first African-American woman elected to statewide office.

Johnson said the state's decision to build a statue would represent "her contributions as a representative of the African American community."

A Change.org petition featuring Johnson's letter and advocating for a statue of Phillips be added to to the Capitol has gained over 150 signatures.

Johnson said he planned to call the governor's office to schedule a meeting about representation. The letter was also addressed to Gov. Tony Evers.

In recent weeks, vandals toppled two statues outside of the Captiol. One called "Forward" and another of Col. Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist who fought for the union in the Civil War.

"As the state begins to repair the statues that were recently damaged, I encourage you to think about our current environment and the achievements of African Americans in Wisconsin," Johnson wrote. "I can’t think of a better person to recommend than Mrs. Vel Phillips."

JT Cestkowski

Social Media Content Producer/Desk Editor

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