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Celebrating Black History Month: Voices from the early days of Las Vegas

By skennedy on February 9, 2018 10:50 AM | Permalink

Black and white photograph of the March 1960 meeting at the Moulin Rouge Hotel Coffee Shop to end segregation on the Las Vegas Strip. City officials and NAACP members met to eliminate segregation in public accommodations and jobs and discuss calling off demonstrations on the Strip in the City of Las Vegas and Clark County, Nevada. From left to right: Woodrow Wilson (NAACP), Lubertha M. Warden Johnson, Bob Bailey (NAACP), Clesse Turner (County Commissioner), Butch W. E. Leypoldt (Sheriff), Hank Greenspun (Las Vegas Sun), Dr. James B. McMillan (President of the NAACP), Oran Gragson (Mayor), Dr. Charles I. West, Ray K. Sheffer (Chief of Police), Art Olsen (County Commissioner), possibly David Hoggard, and Donald Clark (NAACP). (ohr000118, Marie McMillan Collection, Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas)

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 first in a series.

When I was a young girl, we celebrated Negro History Week, created in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1976, the week stretched into a month. Dr. Woodson never intended for the designated period to continue, but wanted black history to become a significant part of the advancement of human civilization.

The advancements in the City of Las Vegas since its founding have been tangible. The city is relatively new, formed in 1905 and incorporated in 1911. African American voices from the founding of Las Vegas tell powerful stories of the early days. For instance, Clarence Ray tells of the early gambling town and challenges encountered launching the NAACP branch. Two other voices from those early days, Woodrow Wilson and Lubertha Johnson, tell stories of progress and possibilities that unfold as the city grows. As you listen to or read these three interviews, watch for stories about Josephine Baker, Basic Magnesium Incorporation, The Paradise Township, and politics in the black community.

Clarence Ray (photo by Helen M. Blue, from the transcript of an interview with Clarence Ray by Jamie Coughtry, 1991)

Woodrow Wilson, circa 1975 (ohr000211, Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas)

Color portrait photograph of Lubertha Johnson in her Las Vegas home in 1978. (ohr000183Elizabeth Nelson Patrick Collection, Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas)

Jamie Coughtry is the local historian who collected these three interviews. They are informative, historically relevant, and allow us to learn about black history in our city in a truly transformative fashion.