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UW-Madison to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

PHOTO: 90-year-old Wisconsin Civil Rights pioneer Vel Phillips is the keynote speaker at a daylong observation of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights act, at UW-Madison on Wednesday. (UW-Madison Law School photo)
PHOTO: 90-year-old Wisconsin Civil Rights pioneer Vel Phillips is the keynote speaker at a daylong observation of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights act, at UW-Madison on Wednesday. (UW-Madison Law School photo)
March 24, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - In the summer of 1964, the landmark Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. On Wednesday, UW-Madison will hold a daylong seminar to examine its effects.

UW-Madison spokesperson Valeria Davis said the focus will be broad.

"We're looking at it not just as a celebration of the Act itself, which was signed into law 50 years ago, but as an observation of how that Act came to be, how it's evolved over the years, and where we're going with it at this time," Davis said. "It's going to be a very celebratory event."

The keynote speaker will be 90-year-old Wisconsin civil rights pioneer Vel Phillips.

"She was the first African-American female to graduate from the Wisconsin law school, and she served exemplarily across the history of the state," Davis explained. "She was Wisconsin Secretary of State, she was a judge in the Milwaukee area - a longtime elected official there. If you know anything about Wisconsin's role in the civil rights movement, you have to know Vel Phillips."

According to Davis, the seminar will cover the history of civil rights before and after the 1964 landmark law, and the social, political and institutional evolution that followed. Faculty experts will provide insight into the roles the university and state played in the civil rights movement.

Phillips was a close associate of the late Fr. James Groppi, the activist Milwaukee priest who fought alongside other leaders such as Dick Gregory and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s for fair housing and school desegregation. Those were days of turmoil on the UW campus. Davis said today's students are just as active - in a different way.

"I think the students are probably even more active than ever. They just have learned how to channel their energy and their opinions and their passion into something that is very meaningful and possible to achieve for them. The thing that's wonderful about students is that that's constantly evolving," she said.

Seminar information and registration are online at www.news.wisc.edu.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI