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Transcript of interview with Ernest Jackson Jr. by Larry E. Cooper, March 1, 1980






On March 1, 1980, Larry E. Cooper interviewed general contractor Ernest (Ernie) Jackson Junior (born December 6th, 1932 in Bruce, Mississippi) in Cooper’s home about his experiences in the Westside as a Black Las Vegas resident. Jackson Jr. discusses the lack of property buyers on the Westside and his goals of improving the Westside by building on the land. Jackson Jr. also discusses his youth as a baseball star for Las Vegas High School in the fifties.

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Jackson, Ernest Jr. Interview, 1980 March 1. OH-00928. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. i An Interview with Ernest Jackson Jr. An Oral History Conducted by Larry E. Cooper Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. iv Abstract On March 1, 1980, Larry E. Cooper interviewed general contractor Ernest (Ernie) Jackson Junior (born December 6th, 1932 in Bruce, Mississippi) in Cooper’s home about his experiences in the Westside as a Black Las Vegas resident. Jackson Jr. discusses the lack of property buyers on the Westside and his goals of improving the Westside by building on the land. Jackson Jr. also discusses his youth as a baseball star for Las Vegas High School in the fifties. UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 1 Informant is Ernest Jackson Junior. The date is March 1st, 1980 at ten o’clock AM. The place: 2215 Flower Avenue, North Las Vegas, Nevada. The collector is Larry Edward Cooper, 2215 Flower Avenue, North Las Vegas. The project is Oral History: Oral Interview, Life of a Black Las Vegan. Mr. Jackson, what is the place and date of your birth? December the 6th, 1932. Where were you born? Bruce, Mississippi. Tell me a little bit about your youth and background in Bruce, Mississippi. I lived there about seven years. And during that seven years, my mother and father also was living in Bruce, Mississippi at the time. And my father worked at the meal, and my mother was just a housewife at the present time. And then I’ve been living in Bruce, Mississippi, my father run the machine at the flow plant there for quite a few years. And after that we moved to Fort Dice, Arkansas, which we lived then for two years before moving to Las Vegas, Nevada. And that was in the year of 1943. What was your present address at the time? 404 Washington Avenue. How many members were in your family? I had two sisters and two brothers at that time. Tell me a little bit about the first beginnings of Las Vegas. Well, there wasn’t very much when I first came here. This was only about seven thousand people in Clark County in 1943. And it wasn’t much of nothing here, just a little ol’ street, no street curves or gutters, you just had to make it the best you could at that time. There was no water in UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 2 West Las Vegas, only in certain spots. And the Union Pacific sold the only water you had in the town at the present time. And I think they had one of the best water systems we’ve had in the state. And (unintelligible) the Union Pacific Water Company, even at this state, but it was only a few people here at the present time. And that’s what had made Las Vegas boom and move up in the years to come. And I think it’s gonna’ continue to grow way up into the first—twenty-first century. And we beginin’ to move in certain places and a lot things the state from Washington is comin’ through. And see, I went to school in Vegas. First started at the First Street Grammar School and then went to high school, completed it. Which high school? Las Vegas High School. It was the only high school here at the present time. And then I went to San Bernardino Valley College for a year, I also was a baseball star for Las Vegas High School and also for Valley College in ’51—1951. What was your major in college, in San Bernardino? I majored in (Unintelligible) Your occupation now is a—? Well, I’m a general builder and I get quite a bit of building ‘round Las Vegas in the last ten years: houses, apartments, and things of that nature. What about the hotels? I worked on quite a few of those. Big major hotels: Sahara, the Sands, the Dunes, also the Tropicana. So I have saw Las Vegas grow quite a bit. Can you describe the home life here, at the time, of Las Vegas for a Las Vegan Black? Well, at the present time, at the time I was pressed in Las Vegas, it was pretty tough because you couldn’t do very much at the present time. You could go nowhere— UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 3 Why? Well, simple reason, you were barred from goin’ to a lotta’ places in the public places. In other words, they were prejudiced? Yes. What is your interpretation of that? Well, I think over the years, some of the prejudice that grew down but it has come to a backward glance. You just have to get out there and push your way into life other than sitting back and waiting for somebody to do something for you. And so I think that has been the great way to keep the emotion going. What about the neighbors? Well, I get along with everybody. In fact, everybody knows me and usually calls me Junior for a nickname. And so everybody sees me calls me Junior. So I have no complaints about the neighbors, I get along with ‘em. Are you a member in any other organizations? No, I don’t belong to no church, nothing like that. My mother did, my father belonged to the Baptist church in Fresno, California. That’s where he’s residing at now. And he’s been over there for the last six years and he’s also a retired carpenter here from the local 1780. And he was about the first Negro to start growing pension because he got his years in early here, from 1948. So, that give him a good standing, you know, in the community. You worked on one of the first hotels here in this town. Can you tell me a little bit about it? The work, the description, the people? Yes, I worked at the Sahara Hotel when Del Webb put that first addition on it. And we had a phone man by the name of Big Jim; that was just what we give him, the nickname. And we joked UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 4 with him all the time and said, “Big Jim,” he says, “I’m not gonna’ let you go home,” I’ll say, “Big Jim, why, don’t you see it’s raining?” and he says, “I don’t care nothing about the rain, we ‘gon work in the rain anyway.” (Laughs) Big Jim would always push the job on and (unintelligible). So I walked down one day, and I was talking to Big Jim. I said, “Big Jim, we ‘gon lose that floor.” And he said, “Get on outta’ here, we not gonna’ lose that floor.” So I walked back up and got back on the second deck and the floor collapsed. And we was fortunate enough that nobody got hurt on that Sahara job, but the floor did collapse, and nothing happened. (Laughs) So we were real lucky on that deal. So he asked me, “How did you know that floor was gonna’ fall?” I said, “Why, I had that instinct.” (Laughs) (Laughs) You received a baseball (Unintelligible)? Yes, I was the baseball star for Las Vegas High School in 1950, and also was the baseball star for San Bernardino Valley College in 1951. Were those your aspirations and goals at the time? Yes. Did you have any plans for that later? Lots of people said I could have made the major league if I had continued to play but I didn’t continue to play, so I don’t know. It leaves you hanging. Also, Lieutenant Governor was making a little joke with my nephew, and he told him when he was playing, he was coaching a football team, he was young and could hit a ball with his eyes closed. (Laughs) Who was the Lieutenant Governor at the time? UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 5 I’m trying to think of it—I think it was— What kind of person was he, do you know? The Lieutenant Governor was a real nice fella’ but I can’t remember who he was at the present time. After being here in Las Vegas for a while, were there any additional members to your family? Yes, I had a niece, Deborah Anne Jackson, and she grew up around here, went to high school, and finished. Now she’s a, works on the crap at the Hilton. She’s been there for over a year and a half now. Times looking pretty good in those days than now. Any more additional members? Just a few, but they’re all in California at the present time. Was there any more travel in your life? Yes, I went to holiday in Canada. In 1954 I played baseball down there. I stayed down there for one season, and I enjoyed Canada quite a bit. Minor league? No, it was semi-pro, but it was professional, and you had a lot of fun down there because you travel all over the country. But what they do, they set up a championship, and each town you go in, and you place a fast game; if you won, then you played another. If you lose, you ride a bus and go right on to the next town so you could be ready to play the next day. What about changes as far as Las Vegas is concerned? For the Black these days compared to when you first came here? UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 6 Well, the changes now is much modern than the town I was first living in, in Las Vegas. (Unintelligible) was way behind, ‘cause back in the early fifties, you can hardly get a phone, so that changed around. Do you know the reason why? Yes, the town was small, and it was building at the time, and it didn’t have the outlets as it did now. That was one of the particular reasons. Do you have any history of illnesses in your family? No, no history or whatever. (Tape one ends) Mr. Jackson, there’s a certain place in Las Vegas that most of the Blacks stay in, and it’s called the Westside. Can you tell me a little bit about it? Yes, West Las Vegas—I lived over there for some time. And that was where most of all the Blacks lived there, and they just called it West Las Vegas, but it’s really not West Las Vegas. It’s really north of town, but that was just a saying, and everybody always called it West Las Vegas, ‘cause it’s really north from town. And most of Blacks lived in there in the early forties, until the contention of the first Civil Rights was passed in the sixties and then Negroes started moving into another township called North Las Vegas, and some said, it’s more Negroes in the township of North Las Vegas than in Las Vegas at the present time, and so it seems that way. What kind of changes were there compared to then and now? Well the changes was the, major big change was in the sixties when the first Civil Rights Bill was passed. People had moved up and moved out of West Las Vegas into better communities and we’re all over the Clark County area now. And then the growth come, and we continue to move all over the area. But it seems that most of the newcomers that come into Las Vegas are UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 7 usually not buying nothing in the old section of Las Vegas. ‘Cause when you come into Las Vegas, you can see that (unintelligible) of nothing have been built in Las Vegas in the last ten years. What we called the “old section” of Las Vegas, I have built, the only (unintelligible) that has ever been built in the last six years. And I’m gonna’ get started on two projects now because being built will be a whole section of West Las Vegas. And there haven’t been nothing built there since the fifties, and you know how long that’s been. And it looks like the growth of Las Vegas might change if federal money comes into the state and help out that way. But not too many people can go out and make loans to build nothing in the old section of the town. So it just seems that it’s left hanging. Even as the freeway has come through there and sold quite a bit of the property, it seemed that everything was just on the (unintelligible) net at the present time. Were there any contribution by anyone from any other part of the community to Las Vegas, West Las Vegas? Yes, you had quite a few people that contributed to West Las Vegas. I can remember them—several churches have been built in the West Las Vegas area, and they’ve donated money to ‘em. Quite a few people—I happened to be working on one church in particular, and people’d come by there and say, “Mr. Jackson, we want to leave money here,” and I said, “Well, why don’t you give it to the pastor?” “No, we don’t have time, because the pastor will be giving it direct to you and you tell the pastor that we left the money here.” Quite a few people have donated to the church from time to time. An I can remember people have always stepped in there, you know, when you told ‘em you were building a church, and give a free hand and helped out. Because I can remember (Unintelligible) had just come into West Las Vegas, and donated work freely to help certain projects get a loan. UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 8 What about the political constituents of this town? Did they donate anything to the beginning of West Las Vegas? Well the city of Las Vegas has made some concessions in the West Las Vegas area in order to improve it up, because like I say, you can remember that we didn’t have no curbs, gutter, or streets, no street light. And it was a real bad thing because you couldn’t really do nothing before you got there, and it was a real tough hazard goin’ in West Las Vegas. Now most of the land in West Las Vegas was cheap, but nobody seems to be buying it, that’s in the old section. Now the outer section, up on Highland, the land in there, but it’s much higher in price. And nobody seems to be buying none of that land. No major hotel or nothing is being built in West Las Vegas, no motel, no nothing. It just seems to be hanging at the present time. What do you think youth had to do? Well, we was growing up, I played American Legion Baseball and now, it’s in sports, now you could keep me busy all the time. Baseball and things like that, but so many people couldn’t play no kind of sports that was different in the early forties. You take Harmon Moody, he’s a retired policeman and he was talking the other day about, in the early part of Las Vegas when I was playing baseball, and he was things have changed quite a bit. He was from the time that he was fresh started on the police department. What would be your major role or contribution as an individual your part of town? Well, my plan, let’s just say, at town now, I’m thinking about cabinet making and also into furniture building. It’s something different, and I’ve also been thinking about going into light toy making, something I see that nobody’s doing in West Las Vegas, or even in other communities either. So I think that was kind of a push up things in West Las Vegas. If you have a cabinet shop and something like that going, because the old houses are getting deteriorated and lots of people UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 9 need cabinets and they can’t afford to really buy the cabinets from these big places because the average cabinet sitting there is running two thousand dollars per home, and that’s quite a bit money to have to pay that out in order to install that in a home. You said you was a baseball star. Did you receive any honors? Yes I did, I received honors at San Bernardino College whereby I got a scholarship to go there in a first place. I—I played ball, and a lot of people said I was an unorthodox baseball player they ever saw. And (unintelligible) saw them play, and the game back was to beat a man farther, so they couldn’t understand that. So I had a sharp eye at the time, the guys used to joke and say, “You stand up there and look at three balls, and then give the count three, and hit the man before it hits” and you would know, you were a pretty good hitter. And so that was something the Lieutenant Governor—he used to joke with me in my past, “Yes, I’d know Ernie, he’d let three balls go by and hit the fourth.” (Laughs) So incidentally, that was another person I was closely contacted with, Myron Leavitt, the Lieutenant Governor, and he used to come over in the early fifties and bring a basketball over so we could play basketball right behind the school over there. And he’d always make it there by ten o’clock and get back at four or five to pick up the ball. He’d bring us four balls over to play with and all we had was a good time giving us (unintelligible) and that’s why I personally admire Leavitt, the Lieutenant Governor. So the key point in your life is to have improved the West Side of Las Vegas? Right. That is the key point, and something like now, I think I own something like ten of those lots in West Las Vegas, and I’m going to build something on ‘em soon. And I think I can keep West Las Vegas going, for quite a few years to come. UNLV University Libraries Ernest Jackson Jr. 10 So your goal is to bring in status with the other parts of Las Vegas? Right, I think that the contentions now with the rent boom, just went so high, that the people now are not able to pay this high rent now. I don’t think the rent concession will go up in West Las Vegas, and start a different boom for a particular reason. Things were so high now, the rent, it had become a tough way to go down because of the high power bill and inflation is eaten up everybody’s pocket book now at the present time. This digit inflation is killing everybody in America, it look like it’s gonna’ continue to grow until somebody step in and try to change the situation at the present time. And it haven’t been nobody so far been able to do that. No president, and I don’t think no congressman gon’ be able to do a (unintelligible) at the present time. So we gon’ have to do the best we can, as long as we can, to keep things going at the present time. And the only thing we can do now, is just strive, and keep striving to get the best thing out of life that we can get. But as far as West Las Vegas, I think the contention and the bank will change in the first Black community in Clark County, Nevada. Do you have any other occupation besides general contractor? Well I do a little plumbing, electrical, and sometimes I do a little sheet-metal work when I have to. (Unintelligible) Did you have a witness in the (Unintelligible) catastrophe here in Las Vegas? As far as ethnics groups is concerned? No, we’ve—what I call, minor things that we’ve been able to hide out. And do in the community in all black situations, what things occurred at. We saw a lot of things that was happening in the early fifties, because again, there wasn’t no Negroes living— (Audio ends)