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Celebrating Black History Month: Perspectives from 1930s-1950s Las Vegas

By skennedy on February 20, 2018 1:19 PM | Permalink

Black and white photograph of D. D. Cotton (center) and two friends at a Westside clubs, 1950-1960. Alice Key Collection. African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project.

Claytee White is the Director of the Oral History Research Center. In celebration of Black History Month, we asked her to share some of her favorite stories collected in Documenting the African Experience in Las Vegas. This is the second in a series.

Jim Crow wore a different face in Las Vegas. There were no signs stating "White water fountain" and "colored water fountain" or "Negroes use back entrance." Signage like that - commonly used in the South - that would save one from humiliation was not found here. During the 1930s - 1950s, a black person in Nevada would just be asked to leave a place of business where African Americans were not welcome.

Large portions of the city were off limits to African Americans, but the entire city of Las Vegas was never segregated. The Historic Westside neighborhood was integrated. While blacks could not frequent the Desert Inn, Flamingo, Dunes, or the Tropicana, whites were allowed in the Brown Derby, Town Tavern, the Cove, and Cotton Club. These small gaming establishments and other similar businesses were on Jackson "Street" Avenue, E & F Streets, and Monroe Avenue locally known as the black business district of the African-American community.

The bulk of the World War II migration to Las Vegas originated from Fordyce, Arkansas; Tallulah, Louisiana; and small towns in Mississippi. Las Vegas provided jobs and blacks wanted to work, so it was an ideal destination for a time. Lena Horne disliked the racial treatment in the city but believed that Las Vegas was difficult to resist because the money was so attractive. And on a smaller scale, so did the majority of the community. Lucille Bryant, Hazel Gay, and Rachel Coleman saw Las Vegas from the most positive angles possible, and unlike Lena Horne, decided to give the city the opportunity to provide a better life. Please check out their oral histories to learn more about their experiences in Las Vegas.

Still of Lucille Bryant taken from a video of Las Vegas African American Community Conversations, Part 1: Migration, Work, and Community Emergence, Las Vegas African American Community Conversations Collection, Vegas PBS Collection