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Celebrating Black History Month: Perspectives on Civil Rights-Era Las Vegas

By skennedy on February 28, 2018 4:14 PM | Permalink

Film transparency of Roosevelt Toston, Jackie Brantley, Faye Todd and unidentified man lounging outdoors at the Desert Inn, circa 1970. Roosevelt and Gertrude Toston Collection (ohr000756)

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 final in a series.

The 1960s in Las Vegas kicked off with the March 26 Moulin Rouge Agreement, an historic accord that allowed the integration of public accommodations on the Strip and in Downtown Las Vegas. While this move provided new entertainment opportunities, jobs prospects dwindled for black workers. African Americans could spend money on Strip entertainment, but not work in jobs beyond those in the back-of-the-house.
In 1965, training programs emerged funded by President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty Program under a local entity, the Economic Opportunity Board (EOB). The EOB applied for grants and funneled monies into poor Clark County communities. A dealer's school, GED training, Head Start, a summer jobs program for teens, and a program focused on retraining older, needy residents proved insufficient to alleviate the dire need. Even though Caesars Palace opened in 1966 with two black cocktail waitresses, D. D. Cotton and Peggy Walker, black advancement was too slow.

In 1968, the Las Vegas Review-Journal in an article by Lee Adler titled "Report Studies Problems of Negroes in Las Vegas" stated that, "Negroes are often mistreated by police when they venture into white neighborhoods at the wrong time of the day; landlords are unwilling to rent to Negro tenants in white neighborhoods because they feared other tenants would move out; Negro job seekers frequently lose the confidence to apply for jobs they could conceivably win; and Negro students tend to become alienated when schools are indifferent to their needs and de-emphasize or ignore their cultural heritage."

The Las Vegas Sun, in an article titled "Commissioner Trying to Solve Dilemma", added, "the Westside community was not aware of the scope of the War on Poverty programs. However, the Economic Opportunity Board had moved into the Westside community three years earlier. Meetings to inform the neighborhood were held during the workday that prevented the working poor access to information. Additionally, meeting notifications were not timely. The black community complained that no blacks had been included in local policy making decisions and since the community's organizations were not included, test designs were faulty; top administrative jobs should have gone to blacks; tests had been designed to weed out blacks allowing a lack of education to hinder job acquisition."

As a result of these continuing racial tension, a riot exploded in the Westside neighborhood in October 1969. The community collapsed onto itself as police barricaded entrances to confine the riot within the Westside neighborhood. A curfew imposed by Mayor Oran Gragson and enforced by the National Guard lasted from 7 o'clock in the evening until 6 o'clock in the morning for the four days of the disturbance. On 9 October 1969, the media reported that "everything was back to normal" (Violence Subsides in Vegas Riot Area," Las Vegas Review Journal, 9 October 1969). But normal for the Westside was not good. Normal was economic, academic, and residential challenges seemingly with no solutions. 

Solutions began to appear with the 1971 consent decree. The original work on this consent decree came from local NAACP attorney, Charles Kellar. Plaintiffs who signed agreed to adhere to the stipulated terms that 12% of all jobs in the resorts industry would go to blacks. This included the Nevada Resort Association, Aladdin Hotel, Castaways Hotel, Caesar's Palace, Desert Inn Hotel and Country Club, Dunes Hotel and Country Club, Flamingo Hotel, Frontier Hotel, Hacienda Hotel, International Hotel, Landmark Hotel, Riviera Hotel, Sahara Hotel, Sands Hotel, Stardust Hotel, Silver Slipper, Thunderbird Hotel, and the Tropicana Hotel. Labor unions that signed the consent decree consisted of the Local Union 995, Professional Clerical; Ground Maintenance, Parking Lot Attendants, Car Rental Employees, Warehousemen and Helpers; Local Union 720, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Machine Operators of the United States and Canada; Local 226, Culinary Workers Union; and Local 165, Bartenders Union. 

How did the 1971 consent decree work? You tell me after reading these interviews:

Faye Duncan Daniels -

Faye Duncan Daniel's first job was as a clerical worker at the Nevada Test Site, and she went on to become a position supervisor at the Union Plaza Hotel & Casino, where she overcame barriers associated with her race and gender. She eventually became Assistant Hotel Manager at the Union Plaza. During those years she established the Hotel Managers Association and the Professional Black Women's Alliance.

Faye Todd -

Faye Todd arrived in Las Vegas from San Antonio in 1964 with her three children and husband James. She enrolled in adult education classes to acquire business administration and clerical skills. By 1975 her career took off when she was named Special Events Coordinator at the Desert Inn Hotel & Casino. In 1976 she left the Desert Inn to take up the duties of what she termed "the perfect job" at the Landmark Hotel & Casino as Entertainment Director/Corporate Executive Assistant.

Jackie Brantley -

Jackie Brantley was born in Las Vegas following World War II, and grew up in the Westside Recognizing value in all types of labor, she believes her first job as a maid instilled a sense of pride in maintaining a clean home. Following her marriage, she worked as a secretary until she sought more exciting work in the casino industry. In the 1970s, she worked as a public relations specialist for the Desert Inn Hotel & Casino, achieving a position that allowed her to use her creative skills and put her in contact with celebrities and entertainers.