Vel Phillips

Vel Phillips is the first black woman to graduate from a Wisconsin law school. She is the first woman and the first African-American to be elected secretary of state and later was elected as a judge.

Photo: WI Dept. of Public Instruction

As Wisconsin marks Black History Month, one African-American state senator is calling on Wisconsinites to work together to make progress toward the goal of equality.

LaTonya Johnson, a Milwaukee Democrat, says while celebrating the state's history-making African-Americans this month is important, there's still a long way to go to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of getting to the mountaintop.

"As Wisconsin has some of the worst African-American disparities in the country, we have a long way to go, and a lot that must be accomplished," she says.

Many recent surveys have shown Wisconsin to be one of the worst states in the nation for African-Americans.

Johnson says there's plenty of work to be done to create opportunities for black Wisconsinites in terms of family-supporting jobs, better access to child care and health care and educational opportunities.

Johnson points to two African-American pioneers who inspire her. In 1906, Lucien Palmer became the first black person elected to the state Assembly.

In 1978, Vel Phillips became the first woman and African-American elected secretary of state in Wisconsin. Phillips was later elected to a judgeship.

"Representative Palmer and Judge Phillips' dedication to improving Wisconsin inspires me to do the same," she explains. "But Representative Palmer and Judge Phillips are only two amongst millions of African-Americans enacting change and fighting against the inequalities we face."

Johnson says all Wisconsinites must move forward together, to create the community that Lucien Palmer, Vel Phillips, and other black leaders worked so hard to achieve.

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