Milwaukee's Philipps marched with King at Washington
MILWAUKEE - Vel Phillips was one of the thousands who marched on Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. As much as any speech or anything that came from the event, she says she was struck by just how many people showed up.
"I had never been anywhere before or since that had that many people," she said.
Everyone was kind and generous that day, but no one seemed to realize how big the march would be, Phillips included.
"I had no idea that 50 years later they'd be celebrating the whole occasion."
But we are, with church bells ringing across the country and nationwide remembrances of one of the greatest speeches in American history.
Philipps almost wasn't there. She says her mother didn't want her to go to the march.
"She thought it wasn't ladylike to be running up and down the street," Philipps said.
Despite her mother's concerns, she marched that day, and continued her march into the history books. Vel Phillips would go on to become the first woman and first non-white elected as Wisconsin's Secretary of State, just one of scores of other "firsts" on her resume. She even served as acting governor for a time when both the governor and lieutenant governor were away.
But despite her accomplishments, she still hearkens back to that one summer day when she and thousands of others marched for change in Washington, even if at the time, it didn't seem like the major moment it would become.
"I just thought I was in a place where I could make a difference and it was my duty to do so."