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"Thesis Problem: Studying Southern Nevada Migration": manuscript draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1970 (year approximate) to 1996 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Unpublished manuscripts file.

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man000934. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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Southern Nevada is an excellent laboratory for studying migration because seventy-five per cent of the residents are not native-born but have move here from other sections of the country. The particular focus of my thesis is the phenomenon that in Southern Nevada are large groups of people from particular small towns or rural areas that seem to have as many people living in Southern Nevada as in the original community. I call these communities Taproots because they have produced larger numbers of migrants in proportion to other sections of the country, or in the case of Southern Nevada with a large number of foreign migrants, the world. The two Taproot groups that I have chosen to study are the large number of Black migrants from Tallulah, Louisana and Fordyce, Arkansas.
In the 19^0's, Dr. Killian studied white migrants who moved to Chicago from the lowlands of Tennesse and Kentucky and settled in ethnic or "hillbilly” groups in Chicago. He found that these settlements would be further be divided into cluster of persons who came from the same village or opencountry neighborhood and that kinship and community ties continued to be the dominant type of interpersonal relationship among the Southern White migrants.
Migration among Blacks has been fairly extensively researched in the past several decades. Demi tri B. Shimkin,says in The Extended Family in Black Societies, "Among the economically and educationally stronger families, networks of kin stretching across the United States and even abroad have given information, shelter, and support to their younger members as they sought optimum economic opportunities. Ties to people, cemeteries, and land in Holmes County (Miss.) have provided continuing, cohesive social identities. Among the poorest, least educated families, local networks pooling labor and other resources have permitted survival under extreme adversity."
All migration studies in all parts of the world have stressed kinship and ethnic idenity as major factor factors in migration. Leonard Blumbersin a 133‘.interviews with recent Black female migrants to Philadelphia found that 56% had close relatives in Philadelphia. Only 12% had no relatives in the city at all. Of those interviewed, 65% said that they chose Philadelphia because they had relavtives there.
A similar study by Elton Dee Smith among both White and Black migrants in Indianapolis indicate that 1/3 of the respondents had received general orientation from relatives on arrival and about 15% of them reported that relatives or friends had been the sole means for finding a job. Seventy per cent of the Negro migrants and 80% of the Southern whites reported help from friends and relatives in acquiring housing.
All these groups retained tidies with the old community through frequent visits home. One aspect of my research is
whether these visits encourage more migrants from the same area.
While it is possible to determine many of the social factors involved in Taproot communities by talking to informants, they have not been able to provide me with a complete history of how and why migrations started.*. Most express the reason for their move to Las Vegas as being economic, they can earn more money here than in their home towns where industry is limited. But no one knows who the first were to come to Las Vegas and when they came here.
Migration to Southern Nevada has been closely tied to economic development and it is likely that it affected migration from Tallulah and Fgrdyce. But there are certain social factors ✓
that would affect the migration of Blacks to Southern N'evada and hence, have an effect on the creation of these Taproot communities.
So this paper provides an opportunity to examine the Taproot phenomena in relation to economic and social conditions in Southern Nevada.
Because migration is so dependent on economic conditions in an area,, it would seem to support the theory of historical materialists that the mode of production is domininant in culture and social change rather than individual purposes, accomplishments, or ideas. Mode of production is dependendent only on the social factors of population which supplies the human labor. Cultural materialists do acknowledge that social ideas interact with the material basis of a society but that all ideas do not represent an equal influence. Society will
choose ideas responding to objective conditions. Mode of
production is most dependent on the geographical environment in terms of resources that the environment provides. The environment influences, favorably or unfavorably, how material wealth is produced, thereby affecting technical progress and social development. (The Development of Anthropological Ideas)
I will examine economic, technological and environmental factors as they were likely to affect migration of Blacks to Southern Nevada to identify when Blacks from these Taproot communities would begin their migration to Southern Nevada.
It is possible to eliminate some of the Southern Nevada industries from examination because the two groups (Fordyce and Tallulah residents)are Blacks. Dr. James Hulse in The Nevada Adventure: A History summarizes the extent of Nevada's Black population,"For the first ninety years of Nevada's history, government census takers never counted more than a few hundred Blacks in the state. The picture began to change in the 19^0*s with the introduction of large governmental programs resulting from the wartime economy." (p. 273)
This is observable in Southern Nevada. As, in the rest of the state, Blacks were generally restricted from working in mining and could only find jobs as janitors, porters, maids, or launderers though in Northern Nevada there were Black cowboys and ranch-hands. When Boulder Dam was built in the 1930's Blacks had to sue to obtain jobs on the dam. One of the few Blacks hired after the lawsuit was from Fordyce but he returned home following completion of the dam.
In 19)9, there were 178 Blacks among the 8,420 residents in Las Vegas. The combined population of Southern Nevada, Clark and Lincoln counties) was less than 18,000 people. The chief industries were farming, mining, limited tourism of the dam and Lake Mead and gambling, in the order of importance. If this seems strange today, consider historian Russel Elliott’s statement, "By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, Nevada had completed a decade of legalized gambling without ant startling changes in either its economy or its societal structure." p. -314 History1'- of Nevada, )
The community of Las Vegas still reflected the isolationist idealism of the state's politicans. The Las Vegas newspaper stories, indicate the close ties that Southern Nevada felt with Southern California rather than the northern part of Nevada and especially an obsession with Hollywood. The big news story of the first half of 1939 was that the current Mrs. Clark Gable had come to Las Vegas to divorce Gable so that he could marry Carole Lombard. The editor of the paper wrote an editoral that it was an honor that Mrs. Gable choose Las Vegas for her divorce rather than Reno. There were two stories, Feburary 7 and 15, about legislation introduced in Carson City calling for equal right in public places for all persons regardless of race or color and fines and prison sentences for offenders. The second hews article was that the bill was dropped as a "hot poker" because the bill was faulty in declaring the violations to be misdemeanors but with felony penalities. The paper said that the bill was opposed by hotel keepers and other proprietors of public establishments. On March 4, there was an editorial
Eleanor Roosevelt action of resigning from the DAR to protest
the prohibiting of Marian Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall. The Blacks in Southern Nevada had faced discrimination in jobs and discrimination in housing back to 1911 when Walter Bracken wrote that he was setting aside Blocks 16 and 1? of the new town as the "Red Light" district because, "Our colored population, Mexican's etc., is growing very rapidly and unless we have some place for this class of people they will be scattered all through our Town"it would make little difference to colored people and foreigners about living so close to the Red Light district" ( Letter to H.I. Bettis, March 21, 1911) In the thirties when this property became valuable, the Black-, businessmen in this area were encouraged to move to the Old Town section of the community if they were to have their licenses renewed.
Outside of Las Vegas at time there were national and international events taking place that were to change the course of Southern Nevada economic and population growth. In the last months of 1939» the newspaper front page stopped concentrating of the love life of the Hollywood stars and on which Las Vegans had returned from visiting relatives in Utah and started carrying stories on the German invasion of Poland and France and England declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939. But there was no awareness of how Southern Nevada was going to profit from this crisis. It would be some years even before Southern Nevadans would change their ideology to recognize that ... "By 1946 it was obvious that the war had created new economic patterns in Nevada and that most of them favored Las Vegas an
the Southern part of the state"(Russell Elliott, History of Nevada, p. 316)
When World War II started, several things were in the process of happening in Washington D.C. and in Northern Nevada to bring about these changes in Southern Nevada. Congress ?passed legislation to allow sale of war material to England and France. Congress also expressed strong interest in the German’s use of magnesium, a metal not manufactored here in the U.S., to build the light-weight planes that was dropping the incendiary magnesium bombs on England and used in the manufacture of light-weight cannons that were being parachuted to German ground troops. Another thing that Congress did was to form the Defense Plant Corp, to encourage American industries to develop war industries. Former U.S. Senator? from Elko, Charles B. Henderson was on the Board of Directors of the Defense Plant Corp.
Back in Nevada, the other activities that were soon to affect Southern Nevada were going on in the Northern part of the state. Basic Refractories Co. of Cleveland had filed a claim on a large deposit of magnasite and burcite (the two are. combined to form magnesium) at Gabbs, Nevada, three hundred and fifty miles to the north of Las Vegas. Two large and expensive plants would be required to process magnesium and the power and water was not available at Gabbs. One plant would have to be located near the mine but Southern Nevada was immediately considered for the location of the other plant because of availabilty of power from Hoover Dam and water from the Colorado River. Also, it .would have been miles to supplies and housing at Gabbs.
In July 19^1, the De fense Plant Corp, authorized the building of the Basic Magnesium Plant. The plant was to be located some distance from Boulder Dam in case there was an attempt to sabotage this major source of power for the West. The plant was to be located on 2800 of uninhabited desert, seventeen miles to the East of Las Vegas. The land was chosen because it was unencumbered by mining claims.
News of the planned plant went out immediately. The government encouraged employment agencies to encourage anyone willing to work at hot, dangerous work on the hot desert of Nevada to come to Las Vegas to seek a job. During the Roosevelt administration, attempts were made to eliminate discrimination in government jobsj Blacks coming to work at BMI in Southern Nevada would not have to sue for jobs. In fact, there are reports that Blacks were actively solicited for employment in the southern states by handbills.
Gordon Lisby of Tallulah who came to work at BMI did not see any of these handbills but the wages that a neigbor of his was earning at BMI made Lisby and four of his friends join together and head for Las Vegas in 19^-2.
Construction on the BMI plant began in September, 19^-1. Las Vegans .were upset about the prospects of a town where a minimum of 13,000 people would be living would be built next to Las Vegas with a little over 8,000 residents. In November of 19^1, the Las Vegas Tax Payers Association was formed to oppose the Basic Townsite. They had a powerful ally in Senator Berkeley Bunker who took the fight to the U.S. senate floor where he charged that President Eells of BMI desire for a new
townsite was motivated by "visions of personal financial profit" (BMI Chronologies, Dec. 11, 19^1) Investigations became lengthy. At one time Vice-president Harry Truman was supposed to arrive with an investigating committee in Southern Nevada but he did not come after threatening a personal investigation. The Defense Plant Corp, advised BMI to build temporary houses near the plant site.
The Las Vegas Tax. Payers Association continued their efforts to block this with Bunker attacking the Secretary of Commerce’s investigation that cleared BMI. For the thousand of workers who had arrived, there was an acqute housing shortage. A story by Wesley Stout in the Saturday Evening Post, October 31, 19^2 said, "Anything larger than a parasol is rated as a house. If it has lights, water and sewers it’s a mansion and anything beyond that is paradise." (Nevada’s new Reno") A construction contract was awarded to MCNeil Construction Company to build the new town. As a concession to Las Vegas residents, the houses were designed as temporary and demountable. On February 2, 19^2, construction was begun on 1000 new homes. The opposition from Las Vegas continued. A fire destroyed the administration building at BMI with a full page article appearing the following day appearing in the Las Vegas paper and paid for by Berkley Bunker claiming the fire "Conveniently burned reconrds to hide the facts about BMI's company town." Actually the records were saved from the office and construction on the office and the town continued.
Berkeley Bunker was accused by Arizona and New Mexico
congressmen of accepting a $60,000 bribe to prevent Basic
Refractories from building the plant, paid by Dow Chemical who wished the contract. This was never proven and Arizona and New Mexico had magnesite deposits that they wished developed. Bunker never stopped his opposition even after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 8 and the U.S. declared war on Japan on the following day. But in the following year, an election year, there were eleven thousand registered voters in the Basic townsite alone as compared to 7200 voters in the rest of Clark County, and Bunker was defeated by pro-industry James Scrugham.
In 1943, Basic Townsite was Nevada’s third largest city. The school had 1000 pupils making it the ^th largest school district in the' state. Discrimination was discouraged at the plant. Management bragged that there were several Negro foremen. But segregated housing was built for Blacks in the form of their own section of apartments, community center and dining hall. It was named Carver Park after George' Washington Carver.
The next several years found BMI successful- The increased population in Henderson (Basic Townsite was named after Senator Henderson in 19^4-) and tourists from Southern California whose population had also been swelled by war industries stimulated the building of several new hotels on what was to become the Las Vegas Strip. There was talk that Henderson would, become the "Pittsburgh of the light metal industry." But BMI (now owned by Ana conda Copper Mining CO. as Basic Refractories of Cleveland had sold out) was too successful. Stockpiling of magnesium and competition from other light metals caused the plant to close in December of L9^.
Most of the 13.000 employees left Nevada. Over half the houses vacant and the school system was reduced twddthirds. As James Hulse said, "It seemed the old Nevada story of boom and bust mining and milling had been repeated."
The Reconstruction Finance Corp, assumed control of BMI in 1944 with Charles Henderson as chairman of the Board of Directors. They attempted to utilize BMI for various industrial productions such as leasing warehouses to small industries such as a lapidary workshop, warehousing companies, even a motion picture studio, for the time being. Things were slow at first but in May, 1945 Stauffer Chemical Co. sign a lease and then Western Electrochemical and these together would employ 1000 people. Families moved back to Henderson. Apartments at Victory Village and Carver Park were rented to personnel from Nellis Air Force Base which was experiencing a housing shortage. At Carver Park, the Black residents were moved to the back of the community and the front apartments rented to whites. By 1947 the remaining houses 997/1000 were occupied. Blacks were never permitted to buy these houses according to the secretary for the Henderson NAACP. In 1965 when she and her husband tried to buy a house in Henderson, the realtors ^bfused to sell to them. They had lived in Carver Park previously from 1955-1965 as base housing available to them at Nellis Air Force Base.
In 1947, Las Vegans again attempted to control Henderson's destiny but now they were trying to save their former adversary
from becoming a ghost town and to stimulate the economy of Henderson further, which was still operating way below war production. The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce paid for all Nevada congressmen to come to Henderson on a fact-finding tour with the intention of negotiating with the Federal government to purchase, lease, or accept as a gift the plant and facilities at Henderson. Nevada was successful and the U.S. Government sold Henderson to Nevada for $24,000,000 under a generous mortgage.
Despite the generous mortgage, there was the problem of the maintainance of Henderson utilities and houses. The % cost was $200,000 yearly. So within the next five years, the homes were sold to private individuals. Victory Village and Carver Park remained under the control of the Housing Authority which leased it to rental companies.
In the BMI company newspaper and in the Henderson newspaper both there were Carver Park columns that carried information of social activities in the community. There are a number of references to residents visiting or receiving visitors from Tallulah and Fordyce. Some of these people remained in Southern Nevada following the close, of BMI in 1944. Some want to work in construction, a growing industry in Southern Nevada. They often faced discrimation in jobs and housing but chose to remain in Southern Nevada for other reasons. This will be developed further as my research continues.
The construction of BMI was' extensive. The plant site was one and three quarter miles long by three quarters mile wide. One thousand miles of federally funded roads were built so that trucks could haul magnesium from Gabbs to the plant. Spur lines were built to connect to the railroad in the valley. A fourteen mile pipeline was built to bring water1 from the Colorado River, and electrical transmission lines to bring power from Boulder Dam . In 19^» 997 of the original houses were still standing. The director of the Southern Nevada Museum at Henderson estimates that half of them remain today. Henderson has continued- to grow in size and population. The plant, well documented in its construction is still in operation. But the two original apartment complexes, Victory Village and Carver Park have been razed.
Carver Park was razed in 1973 after being periodically condemned. It was planned that Carver Park be demolished when it’s lease to BMI ran out Dec. 31» 19^2. The men’s dormitories were demolished in 19^6. The Carver Park School was torn down in 1956. There were approximately 200-250 children in grades 1-6. Afterwards, Carver Park children attened Park Village Elementary School.
The buildings had outer block wall construction with drywall on inner 2"X^" studs. Floors were brown linoleum on concrete. Electrical wiring consisted of one overhead bare light bulb and one electrical outlet per room. Cooling was one swamp cooler per two units and heating was an exposted gas
In 1955» the short units got additions of 2 bedrooms of higher quality materials than the originals. They had linoleum floors, light switches, 2 power outlets, and metal framed crank-open windows.
Other buildings included was a store that was closed in 1969 for back taxes and in 1971 donated by BMI to the Henderson Boys Club. The Administration Building at Carver and Washington had a community hall, a day care center and a church. The only building remaining today was the old dining hall which is now the Henderson Elks Club.
Today, the street signs have been removed and the streets have deteriorated. Carver Park streets are not identified on the 1979-1980 map of Henderson. The location of the original site of Carver Park is in an area likely .to be developed in the next few years. Following it’s demolition in 1973 it was sold to a private firm which announced that it planned to build apartments there. Despite the fact that newer construction has not taken place does not mean that the last remnants of a part of the original townsite will not physically disappear without some sort of acknowledge of it’s important history. There are bias against acknowledging the existence of Carver Park because it deteriorated to a slum which is an embarrassment to the present city of Henderson and there is an embarrassment to the region and even to the nation that segregated housing was built for Blacks.
But Carver Park has a right to exist in history as the home of many residents of Southern Nevada, and should be recorded in historic records. And there are possibilities for 'ru-ini archaeological investigation of the site while it still exists,