Any day is a great day to recognize the many contributions that African-Americans have made to American history and culture. But February offers special opportunities to celebrate and recognize African-Americans, both famous and not-so-famous, who have made a difference.
Read on for a selection of upcoming programs airing on WPT – and don’t forget our many offerings available anytime online!
Milwaukee High School of the Arts social studies teachers Drew deLutio and Kelsey Noack worked with WPT to create “experiences, not lessons” for students to engage more deeply with the extraordinary story of Vel Phillips. A flash drive containing the Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams curriculum was recently mailed to social studies educators for grades 6-12, and elementary library media specialists throughout Wisconsin.
Read about Drew deLutio’s experience working on this project:
Written by Michael Edmonds, Deputy Director of the Library-Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which hosts a free discussion on Milwaukee’s Civil Rights Struggle Tuesday, Feb. 24.
As you probably saw from Monday night’s documentary, Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams, Milwaukee’s Vel Phillips has led a remarkable life — activist, Common Council member, judge, Wisconsin Secretary of State, and much more. The records of her career recently came to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where a team of archivists has begun to prepare them for use by researchers.
An old maxim claims that newspapers are the first draft of history, but in fact there’s an even earlier draft: the notes, scraps, manuscripts, and other documents that people preserve in file cabinets or toss into boxes under the bed. Phillips was an enthusiastic saver of such records, and over the decades she carefully preserved enough papers to fill two storage units. She and her family recently donated them to the Wisconsin Historical Society where, thanks to a generous gift from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, they are being properly arranged and described. Archivist Emil Hoelter is in charge of the project.
Cataloging the large quantity of documents is no simple task. The first step was to repack the papers from hundreds of miscellaneous containers into 116 acid-free boxes and ship them to Madison. Hoelter and his staff are currently making a first pass through those boxes to make a rough inventory of the collection and write a professional appraisal report and processing plan. Over the next year, the project team will implement that plan by arranging records according to their dates or topics, noting those that need special conservation treatment, and selecting the most interesting and important ones to be digitized and share on the Web. Digitization is being supported by a gift from retired UW history professors Allan Bogue and Margaret Beattie Bogue.
It’s too early to say what documents may be published on the Web, but the 116 cartons thoroughly document all aspects of Phillips’ life and public career. When the collection is made available to researchers early in 2016, it will surely shed much new light on the history of Milwaukee’s African-American community, the city’s civil rights struggle, and Phillips’ own illustrious career.
Hoelter will talk about the papers on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 24th, at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison. Dr. Patrick Jones, author of the award-winning book “Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee,” will introduce the program, which also includes selections from Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams and a conversation with James Steinbach, director of Wisconsin Public Television, about the documentary project.
Michael Edmonds is the Deputy Director of the Library-Archives Division of the Wisconsin Historical Society and curator of the Society’s online collection of more than 25,000 pages documenting Freedom Summer. He is editor of the Society Press’s book highlighting that collection Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Reader.
I first saw Vel Phillips speak in spring of 2012 …and I was completely blown away.
I had attended a screening of the PBS documentary American Experience: Freedom Riders, after which a panel of professors and activists took to the stage, including a small, elderly African American woman named Vel Phillips. Immediately, she took command of the evening.
Ms. Phillips captivated me with stories of Milwaukee’s civil rights movement, her exciting friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King and, more than anything, her vivacity. I said to myself, here is a woman that we’ve got to do a documentary on.
Now looking back over almost three years, I can honestly say it’s been a life changing experience. First, there was getting to know Ms. Phillips. She is a wonderful, funny, and smart lady. Still to this day, she calls me on the phone to ask “did you hear about what happened in Milwaukee yesterday?” or “what do you think about Hillary’s chances?” She’s still active and is still inspired to make a change in society. (I sure hope I’m that fired up when I’m 90!)
Also life-changing has been getting to know the people associated with Ms. Phillips’ story. From NAACP Youth Council members and Commandos to former Gov. Patrick Lucey and the home run king Henry “Hank” Aaron; it has been such an honor to record their stories and see them relive the moments when they rose to a challenge and helped change the world around them.
Finally, it’s been an exciting three years filming this documentary for Wisconsin Public Television. This is my first historical biography. The learning curve has been huge, and my ego has been slugged a few times. Fortunately, I was able to work with a great team of writers, producers, editors, shooters, and graphic artists — all of whom I can’t thank enough.
Now, with Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams made available to the public, I feel greatly indebted to the past three years of production, and wonderfully excited for this documentary’s life in the world where it will share the narrative of Ms. Phillips’ life.
Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams airs 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16 on WPT and Milwaukee Public Television, and is streaming online now.
More than a documentary, Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams is a statewide engagement project that will bring the community together for screenings and conversations about equity and civil rights in the 21st century.
Due to extraordinary interest in hosting events related to this project, we have developed event kits that include a DVD of the documentary, activities, a discussion guide and instructions for hosting your own event.
These free kits will be available at events and from WPT Audience Services and can be requested by anyone – families, book clubs, church groups, scout troops, etc. In return, we ask that you tell us how you use the kits and share any ideas that come from hosting an event. We also ask that you pass the kits along to another group after you’ve used it. To request an event kit, please fill out the following form. WPT will mail event kits in mid February.
When Vel Phillips was a young girl her mother always told her,
“If you really want it, don’t dream small dreams, dream BIG dreams.”
Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams Premieres statewide February 16, 2015
In February, the story of one remarkable woman and the struggles she undertook to build a better community will be shared for the first time. Discover the story of Vel Phillips — pioneer, activist, humanitarian, diplomat — in a brand new documentary from Wisconsin Public Television, in collaboration with Milwaukee Public Television.