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Wisconsin Historical Society

Black History Month

Black History Month

Celebrating Big Moments: African American history in Wisconsin

The Society is celebrating BIG moments in Wisconsin history, including the significant impact that African Americans have had on the history of the state. Learn about this impact through the articles, artifacts, and other important items below that help tell the story of African Americans in Wisconsin.

African American History Maker: Vel Phillips 

Vel Phillips’ life was a series of firsts. She was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison law school, the first to win a seat on Milwaukee’s City Council, the first to become Secretary of State of Wisconsin, the first to become a judge in Wisconsin. More impressive, Vel did it all at a time when many African Americans were not allowed to exercise their civil rights. Check out this video to learn more about the fascinating life of Vel Phillips, and explore items from the Society's historical collections related to her story below.

The Vel Phillips Historical Collection

Vel Phillips Desk

Common Coucil Desk

Vel Phillips Papers

Vel's Papers

Vel Phillips Brochure

Campaign Brochure

Vel Phillips on the radio


Explore more African American history

Learn more about the African American experience in Wisconsin and beyond through the historical essays below.

Black History in Wisconsin

Black History in Wisconsin

Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer

The Underground Railroad in Wisconsin

The Underground Railroad in Wisconsin

Lloyd Barbee

Lloyd Barbee

More Historical Essays

Civil Rights Movement in Wisconsin | Slavery in Wisconsin | Black Thursday | African American Civil War Unit | Benjamin Butts | African American Life in the Midwest | Desegregation and Civil Rights in Wisconsin | African American Migration

Fascinating Items from the Society's Historical Collections

The Society has over 2,000 items related to African American history available to explore in our online collection, and this collection is always growing. Explore some of these amazing items and the stories behind them below. 

Daisy Bates' Rock

Daisy Bates' Rock

Black Suffrage Referendum Map

Black Suffrage Referendum Map

Fugitive Slave Collar

African American Bowling Shirt

African American Bowling Shirt

More Historical Items

Racine Branch NAACP Letter | Necktie Quilt by Allie Crumble | Interview with Julian Bond | Miss Annie Mae’s Church Hat

Compelling Images from the Society's Historical Collections

The Right To Vote Rally Poster

Autographed Hank Aaron Print

Black Roots Black Art Poster

Photograph of Eugene Parks and His Family

Past Events Celebrating African American history

Youths posing after open mic night

Just Bust! First Wave Open Mic

Feb. 7, 2020 | 8 PM - 11 PM

Madison’s longest-running all-ages open mic returns to the Wisconsin Historical Society HQ with a special Black History Month theme. Share space, enjoy art, and perform in a welcoming and supportive community atmosphere. This open mic is a space to share all mediums of art: music, poetry, dance, comedy, etc. All are welcome. This event is free of charge and open to the public.

Migrating Black Men

African Heritage, Inc.'s 22nd Annual Black History Program

Feb. 15, 2020 | 1 PM - 5 PM

The Society will host a variety of programs and exhibits highlighting the history of African Americans in conjunction with this event. There will be an open house from 1 p.m. - 2 p.m. The main program runs from 2 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. with a reception following from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The traveling exhibit "A Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in the Fox Cities" will be featured, along with other museum and archival collections,  food, and live entertainment. 

African American Woman with street signs, and a quilt in the background

Wisconsin Historical Museum Open House

Feb. 21, 2020 | 10 AM - 4 PM

The Society will host a variety of programs and exhibits that highlight the history of African Americans. African American quilts, Folklorist Janet Gilmore, Womens' Suffrage Exhibit, and Guidance on how to research your family history! Hourly guided tours are available. This event is free of charge and open to the public.

Support the preservation of African American history

Make a big impact

Make a BIG impact by supporting the Society's efforts to continue to collect, preserve, & share stories about African American history in Wisconsin.

Explore Wisconsin's History

You can find out more about our history in these pages focusing on other monthly celebrations!

Explore Black History in Wisconsin

Black History

Explore Women's History in Wisconsin

Women's History

Explore WHS's Response to COVID-19

History Is Happening

Explore Earth Day History in Wisconsin

Earth Day History


History is a story with many voices, always growing and evolving — a story we tell together. Let us know if there are ways we could improve!