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Evers seeks federal grant for Capitol statue of Black leader

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday requested $150,000 in federal grant money to pay for a new statue on the Capitol grounds of the state’s first Black secretary of state and to restore two statues that were torn down by protesters in June.

Two-thirds of the grant, $100,000, would be used for a new statue of Vel Phillips, who would be the first person of color honored with a statue at the Capitol. The remaining $50,000 would be used to restore the statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, a Wisconsin abolitionist who was killed in combat during the Civil War, and the “Forward” statue, which symbolized the state’s motto and came to represent women’s rights.

Evers’ top aide, Joel Brennan, made the funding request to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities. Brennan estimated that if approved, restoration work on the two damaged statues would begin in September, with re-installation next May.

There was no timeline for when construction of a Phillips statue could be completed.

“As with all projects of this magnitude and historical importance, citizen and legislative engagement would be part of the design and approval process,” Brennan wrote. Phillips’ family would also have a “central voice” in the process, he said.

Phillips was the first Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, the first Black woman to win a seat on the Milwaukee City Council and the first to become a judge in Wisconsin. She served one term as secretary of state, from 1979 to 1983, and died in 2018 at the age of 95.

Black community leaders have been advocating for Phillips to be honored with a statue on the Capitol grounds

The state Capitol and Executive Residence Board voted unanimously in July to repair the damaged statues.

Protesters broke off a leg and tore the head off the 9-foot-6-inch tall Heg statue. The 7-foot Forward statue was scratched and dented and one of its fingers was broken off.

Heg was a Norwegian immigrant who became an outspoken abolitionist, serving in the 15th Wisconsin Regiment during the Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. His statue, funded by donations from the Norwegian Society of America, had stood outside the state Capitol since 1926.

Protesters tore the statue down and dumped it in a nearby lake during a demonstration against racial injustice on June 23. They also tore down Forward on the other side of the Capitol.

The protest was one of a series of demonstrations that shook downtown Madison after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died on Memorial Day while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

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