We investigate the tradition of street renamings in Milwaukee.

Vel Phillips in 1961. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society.

Q: The city has renamed the north half of Fourth Street after pioneering politician Vel Phillips. Why not the whole road?

Answer: Tradition.

Since 1984, when the city renamed parts of North Third Street and Green Bay Avenue as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, it’s bestowed the honor 14 times, and even then, no name has ever applied to both the north and south (or east and west) portions of a street.

Prior to Phillips’ honor, there hadn’t been a formal renaming since 2005, which saw the anointing of North Gengler Circle after the late Sister M. Jeanne Gengler, a longtime nurse and former president of St. Joseph’s Hospital near the circle.

Phillips had asked during her lifetime to have Fourth Street – an area she represented on the Common Council for 15 years – named after her.

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“Honorary” renamings are a more recent phenomenon celebrating beloved citizens like pharmacist Dr. Lester Carter, who in May became the 19th person so honored since 2005. These come with a single street sign, typically hung under a regular street sign – in Carter’s case, at 24th and Burleigh streets – and a nice ceremony.

Ald. Khalif Rainey, who sponsored the Carter honor, says, “I hope at some point it does become a permanent street renaming.”

“Why Wasn’t All of Fourth Street Renamed in Vel Phillips’ Honor?” appears in the November 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop or find the October issue on newsstands, starting Oct. 29.

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