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Location all but confirmed for Vel R. Phillips Capitol statue

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A committee moved one step closer Tuesday to installing the first permanent memorial to a woman of color on the Capitol grounds.

A subcommittee of the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board (SCERB) met to consider possible locations for a statue of Vel R. Phillips, the first African-American elected to statewide office in Wisconsin history and the state's first Black judge.

Phillips was also the first African-American woman to graduate from the UW-Madison law school. Conversations around how to place an appropriate tribute at the Capitol date back to the start of the year.

Members of the subcommittee toured the existing monuments both inside and outside the Capitol Tuesday.

"We are here to install an African-American woman, one of the shining stars of the last 50 years of this state," said Phillips's son, Michael.

Michael Phillips joined the tour, stopping to take a photo with a cardboard cutout version of a Vel R. Phillips statue. Phillips said he was proud to see more progress Tuesday and added he felt the statue would ultimately represent so much more than his own family's legacy.

Michael Phillips poses with a mock statue of his late mother, Vel R. Phillips, who broke several Wisconsin race and gender barriers.

"For her and for all of us - for Black people, White people, Brown people, Asian people, Blue people, if they come," Phillips said. "I mean, she was a representative for everyone's better angels."

The subcommittee agreed to recommend to the full board that a Phillips statue be located at the South Hamilton Street entrance to the Capitol.

There were also the questions of what language to place on the plaque and who to commission for the statue's creation. For the artist, Phillips said he worked closely with Marilu Knode, Executive Director of Milwaukee-based Black Box Fund.

"We've done our due diligence in talking about where can we find the best artist to accomplish this commission and I feel that we've found that artist," Knode said.

Knode told the subcommittee they recommended Radcliffe Bailey, an Atlanta-based artist whose background is commemorating African-American history.

The subcommittee will now need to meet again to confirm they'll be recommending Bailey to the full board.

As for the language on the statue, there's still more work to do there as well; the subcommittee told Michael Phillips it wanted the inscription to begin with an impactful quote from Vel Phillips; one attendee suggested her saying, 'What did you do today that was good?'

While more meetings are in order, Michael Phillips said going on the tour, having a likely location set, and meeting in-person with the subcommittee for the first time made for a meaningful afternoon.

"It makes it real," he said. "It's a firm step on that sidewalk toward the installation of this piece."

In May, a separate task force announced it had exceeded its goal of raising $275,000 to pay for the statue's construction and installation.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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