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Documenting the African-American Experience in Las Vegas
The history of the African-American community in Las Vegas has only been told in small part. It is often anecdotal, focusing on a few prominent individuals, entertainers, business and political leaders who led the long civil rights struggle in Las Vegas. Unlike other aspects of Las Vegas’ history which are well documented and often over-represented, the everyday lives of African-Americans in Las Vegas have been ill-served by the traditional historical record. As a consequence, the history of Las Vegas is very incomplete.
UNLV Libraries have received funding from the Nevada State Library and Archives under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for a collaborative project with the public libraries, the university, the State Museum, the public television station, and city and county government to document the African American experience in Las Vegas. First we will identify the gaps in our historical record by surveying existing and known African-American collections that currently are housed in a variety of institutions, organizations and government agencies and by creating an accessible inventory of these collections. In addition, by working in, and with the African-American community, through a community advisory board, we hope to be able to identify potential collections still in private hands, and make the existence and scope of these collections known, whatever or wherever their future disposition might ultimately be. This project will also create a web portal, hosted and maintained by UNLV, to provide easy and convenient access to disparate collections through links to existing online resources, collections that are not digital, and to provide access to a selection of digitized collections; ultimately to provide a shared web presence for the history of Las Vegas’ African-American community.
The collections which we hope to identify and make accessible are of all types: photographs, personal and business papers and records, family scrapbooks, the records of neighborhood organizations, newspapers, and most importantly, oral histories, the living memory of the historical black community as well as the voice of that community today. A number of interviews have been conducted by various individuals and organizations (including UNLV) for a variety of purposes, and some of those (specifically those of the Westside Branch of the Clark County Las Vegas Public Library) are already available online. This project will survey all oral histories, undertake to transcribe all interviews already recorded and to identify subjects for future interviews, and begin planning for a collaborative oral history program for the African-American Community.
Who does it serve?
The project serves many audiences and many purposes. First it serves the African-American community by collecting and presenting the original sources for its history. It will reinforce a sense of historic identity and pride. It will provide those who have or know of collections, or just have an interest in history, a place to go, to see, and to find out about collections. Secondly, the project serves researchers, from local neighborhood projects, family historians, students of all ages, and the many academic researchers from many disciplines who seek to understand the growth and development of this important community, its issues and challenges, and how, with a better understanding of its history, we can make this community sustainable in the future. The information gathered will also serve the government and social agencies charged with providing social services and preserving these communities. And individuals, groups, and agencies will, in turn, be able to contribute their information to this digital library. The more we know, the more information that is accessible, the better the community can be served and be productive. We envision this project as being beneficial to all partners through sharing resources to make our collections more visible, discoverable, and most importantly, accessible to all our users