Judge Lee Gates oral history interview, 1996 December 05. OH-00660. [Audio recording] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, N
Standardized Rights Statement
Tallulah is approximately 13 miles from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and about 40 miles from Jackson. The place where Emmett Till got killed is very close, as well as the Alabama burnings, the marches, and the bus boycotts over there. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were swirling about us, but it hadn't gotten there yet. Of course, the conditions that existed were probably worse because this was a small town in the rural South and away from the media. Things had been going on for hundreds of years the same way. 3 But anyway, she was determined to get out of there and to try to improve her lot and make sure that we could get a good education and improve ourselves. And she didn't feel that the South had any promise for us. So she wanted to leave. So what happened was -- she came from a family of 13. She was born in Mississippi and they moved to Louisiana sometime early to get out of Mississippi. But in Louisiana it was just as bad, if not worse. Anyway, a lot of her brothers, when they came of age, moved to Chicago and some of the other ones moved to Los Angeles. This was probably during the 40s, I believe, and early in the 50s. So she went up to Chicago for a while to live with some of her brothers and sisters to see if she would like it there. But, of course, Chicago was a large industrialized city and she didn't like the urban environment. She found it very frustrating. She felt alienated there. So she returned to Louisiana and she worked a few more years. Then she went out to Los Angeles and lived there for less than a year. She didn't like it there. She felt the same way about it that she did Chicago, even though Los Angeles wasn't as bad. But she felt it was big. It was moving fast. It wasn't conducive to her upbringing. She just didn't feel comfortable there and didn't like it. And she didn't think it was a good place to raise a family. And, of course, she was a very religious woman. So she returned back to Tallulah. And, of course, whenever she would go and check out these places — of course the thing about it was my dad was always working with us. So we were always provided for. And he never went to either place? I don't think he did. Not that I recall. I don't think he left out of the area there. Actually, to tell you the truth I don't think he wanted to come to Las Vegas, either. What happened was a lot of folks came out here during the 40s -- and they would all write back. Oh, the jobs here are great. This is a great area. You can go to the movies. I don't think that many -- even though Las Vegas was pretty racist, you know, you have certain degrees of racism. And, of course, for the most part people didn't call you names down the street. You could go to the movies. It wasn't so outward. I mean there still was some. They had restrictive housing, restrictive employment and restrictive accommodations. But still that didn't compare with the kind of racism they had in the South, which was physical abuse, verbal abuse, restrictive 4 everything and abject poverty. So it was a matter of degrees. So when her mother died — and I think one of the reasons she probably — she was devoted to her mother. She had heard about the great jobs and the money that they were making here. Some folks had come back down there visiting. And as soon as they came here and had gotten a job, they could buy a car. And they would drive back in these cars. Some of them were new cars, new Buicks and Chevies. All the townspeople would see these guys. Oh, they're doing great. They're making lots of money in Las Vegas. And so quite a few people were motivated to try and go and emulate their success. And I think my mother had heard about all this that was going on in Las Vegas. So she came out to see how it was and to see if the streets were paved with gold like some of these people were claiming.