This viaduct was the site of over 200 days of protests calling for fair housing in the city of Milwaukee in 1967. Five years before, in 1962, Vel Phillips introduced the Phillips Housing Ordinance, a bill that would make housing discrimination illegal, to the Milwaukee Common Council. The bill was defeated. Between 1963-1967, Phillips’ bill would go on to be defeated 3 more times.
Vel Phillips was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School; the first African American, as well as the first woman, elected Alderwoman to the Milwaukee Common Council; and the first African American, as well as the first woman, to serve as a jurist in Wisconsin.
Phillips enlisted the help of the NAACP Youth Council who started marching across the 16th street viaduct on August 29, 1967.
The protest marches continued for 200 consecutive days, eventually ending on April 30, 1968 when the Milwaukee Common Council followed the ordinance of the federal government after congress passed the National Fair Housing Act. The Act was passed in early April, following the assasination of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th, 1968.
The marches in Milwaukee were led by Vel and Father Groppi. Vel Phillips was the first African-American and first woman elected to Milwaukee’s Common Council in 1956, when she was 32 years old. Jame E. Groppi, better known as Father Groppi, was a local Milwaukee priest and advisor to the Youth Council of the NAACP.