Those who have been a part of Las Vegas' African-American history or have relevant private collections are encouraged to contact UNLV Libraries.
The fascinating and inspiring history of African-Americans in the United States has been told in myriad publications, movies and documentaries. Yet, until now, the vital role of African-Americans in Las Vegas history has only been told in fragments, often focused on the great casino showroom acts of the 1950s and '60s - Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. and the dilemmas presented by the resorts' segregationist policies.
Donald Clark and Charles Kellar at the El Capitan in Hawthorne, NV, circa 1950s-1960sThanks to a collaborative project with UNLV Libraries, Nevada State Museum, Henderson Libraries, Las Vegas-Clark County Libraries, the City of Las Vegas, Las Vegas National Bar Association, Clark County Museum, the Wiener-Rogers Law Library and Vegas PBS, a more comprehensive history of the African-American community in Southern Nevada will be collected and made accessible to the public. This project is funded by the Nevada State Library and Archives, under the Library Services and Technology Act, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
For the project, Vegas PBS filmed a series of panel discussions organized by Claytee White, director of the UNLV Oral History Research Center. These four discussions, called Las Vegas African American Community Conversations, can be viewed on Vegas PBS's You Tube channel at www.vegaspbs.org.
"African-Americans have made great contributions to Las Vegas and their history deserves to be told," White said.
The first panel discussion included Hannah Brown, Brenda Williams, Jackie Brantley, David Washington and Lucille Bryant, and was moderated by local author Trish Geran. Topics discussed during the session included migration, early employment and various aspects of the emergence of the Westside community.
Moderated by The Lincy Institute Senior Resident Scholar Sonya Horsford, the second panel focused on education and business development. It featured Linda E. Young, Ida M. Gaines, Verlia Davis Hoggard and Esther Langston.
For the third panel, which covered civil rights and entertainment, White interviewed Lonnie Wright, Walter Mason, LaVerne C. Ligon, B.J. Thomas and Leonard Polk, Jr. The fourth panel focused on the early Las Vegas legal community. It was moderated by Boyd School of Law Professor Rachel Anderson, and it featured Justice Michael Douglas, Judge Timothy Williams, Judge Karen Bennett, and attorneys Booker Evans and John Bailey.
In addition to the recorded panels, organizers will identify gaps in historical record by surveying existing and known African-American collections housed in a variety of institutions, organizations and government agencies and by creating an accessible inventory of these collections. The organizations are working together to tackle the massive project over the next three to five years.
Some of the notable African-Americans who will be included in the historical records are Justice Michael L. Douglas, the first African-American justice in the Nevada Supreme Court; Lubertha Johnson, entertainment director at Carver Park, civil rights leader and Head Start director; and Arthur McCants, the first president of the Las Vegas NAACP.
Because the project aims to provide a shared web presence for the history of Las Vegas' African-American community, UNLV Libraries will host and maintain an interactive web portal. It will provide easy and convenient access to disparate collections through links to existing online resources and a selection of digitized collections as well as information about some that are not digital.
To make the project as complete as possible, organizers hope to receive contributions from, or access to, private collections as well.
"We hope to identify potential collections still in private hands and make the existence and scope of these collections known," White said. "The collections 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."
Organizers are also planning for a collaborative African-American oral history program. This oral history component will survey existing recordings, transcribe all interviews already recorded and identify subjects for future interviews. Interviews already collected by the Westside Branch of the Clark County-Las Vegas Public Library are available online now.
The project serves many audiences and purposes. First, it is meant to reinforce a sense of historic identity and pride in the African-American community. Second, it will provide researchers with access to this information in one place. Third, it will serve the government and social agencies charged with preserving and providing social services to these communities.
"We envision this project as being beneficial to all partners through sharing resources to make our collections more visible and accessible to our users," White said. "The more we know and share this information, the better the community can be served."
UNLV Libraries supports the university community by embracing the traditional values of higher education adapted for the global community in the 21st century. Libraries are the focal point for all learning-related activities on campus.
Open to the public, UNLV Libraries includes the state-of-the-art Lied Library and three branches: Architecture Studies, Curriculum Materials and Music. Employing 120 staff members, including 18 library faculty offering subject-specific research assistance, UNLV Libraries provides on-site access to content that is not available on the open web.
For additional information on the project, call White at 702-895-2222 or visit http://www.library.unlv.edu/oral_histories/african_americans_in_lv.html.
Those who have been a part of Las Vegas' African-American history and would like to take part in documenting it can also call White.