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Transcript of interview with Hank Greenspun by Tony Bleeker, 1975





Brief interview with Hank Greenspun by student Tony Bleeker. Greenspun speaks about changes in southern Nevada over the years, including politics, gaming and the economy. He mentions the role of the newspaper industry to provide "balance" in society.

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Hank Greenspun oral history interview, 1975. OH-00734. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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i AN INTERVIEW WITH HANK GREENSPUN An Oral History Conducted by Tony Bleeker, 1975 The Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ?Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV ? University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White Editors and Project Assistants: Maggie Lopes, Stefani Evans iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes 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. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews transcribed under the auspices of the Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas 1 First of all, your name. Herman Milton Greenspun. And what is your address? One Twenty-one South Highland. I don't give out?I mean not that? No. All right. One Twenty-one South Highland. Were you married in Las Vegas or Southern Nevada? No. Incidentally, this is for a history research, you say? Uh-huh. What year are you in? This is my second year. I'm a senior?not a senior, a sophomore. This is for my Southern Nevada History class. All right. Is or was church activity an important part of your life? Well, in the early formative years, yes. Dad always made certain we attended services and he was involved with it to a great measure. So naturally, the house was oriented that way. We observed all the rituals, all (inaudible). Do you remember visits of any of the presidents or important people in the Las Vegas area, such as? Wait. What was that? Do you remember any visits, presidents in the Las Vegas area like in 1942?or not 1942?like with President Roosevelt or President Hoover? I wasn't here at the time. He came in '45, I think. No. Thirty something. I didn't come until '46. 2 The only presidents I remember coming here were Lyndon Johnson; he came here on vacation. President Kennedy, I remember when he came here as president. Just a few months before he was assassinated he was here, a few months. I think Nixon was here while he was vice president; I don't recall him coming as president. Eisenhower, I think I remember he was here. Were or are you active in politics? Yes. I was active in politics on my own, but since I started a newspaper I have been active in politics from the newspaper standpoint; in other words, I familiarized myself to such a degree that I can impart/offer information to the public so that they can make intelligent judgments when they vote. Were or are you a member of a social or other special interest groups? Well, special interest groups, I'm a member (inaudible) organizations, (inaudible) boards. I'm also a member of...I'm not much a joiner. I like to keep free of any entanglements so nobody can ask for time or (inaudible) space (inaudible) person involved in (inaudible) to make decisions for me. Do you remember anything about the early aboveground atomic tests? Yes. I was the first accredited newsman to the Test Site. I had to get special Q clearance; I forget what it was. Before they had any tests up there, there was a lawsuit between a contractor and the AEC and I went up there. I wanted to go up there to find out what the problem was to report on it. So I was probably the first reporter accredited clearance for the atomic testing area up there. I remember practically every test because we had an Atomic Test Watchers organization. (Inaudible), the guy who was the chairman of it, he used to go up there three, four o'clock in the morning and standing out in the cold shivering. The blasts would go off (inaudible) in your stomach, almost throw your insides out of you. 3 What changes have you noticed in Southern Nevada since you first arrived, like, number one, economic changes? Well, economic changes that would be the expansion of the economy of the entire area. It's a much freer society than we had in the past; by freer, I mean more competitive. You realize that the only way anything can grow is through competition. When I arrived here it was a very small, closely knit town that a handful of people controlled most everything?licenses, gaming licenses. If you weren't accepted?I don't know what you had to do to get accepted; I know what had to be done, which naturally every person who believes in a free society where every person is equal if they have the ability and the money to open a business, they should be entitled to do it without any restrictions being put on them. At that time the editor of the Review-Journal, which was a monopoly newspaper at that time, he, working with Senator McCarran and some members of the Golden Nugget, some of the owners, pretty well controlled what gaming licenses were issued (inaudible). And when I started the newspaper, we exposed all this (inaudible) others could come in as long as they followed the law and paid whatever licensing?on the cost to license. At least we tried to keep it where they wouldn't have to pay anything extra (inaudible). That's what kind of opened up the town for (inaudible). What about environmental changes? Well, environmental changes...they always had the?well, the plants in Henderson were polluted at one time and then they shut down. I remember the state order from the federal government they enticed industry to come there. We did an editorial and insist that the plants conform to all environmental standards; that the legislature invoke laws that require them to do this, which will cut out all of the soot and everything going up into the air and all the noxious gases and all, which polluted the atmosphere. Of course, we insisted that they be given time to financially 4 cope with these changes that had to be made. Otherwise, you put them out of business and there would be a lot of unemployment. They pretty well followed the plan and lived up to it pretty much. As far as the other environmental changes, you couldn't help the tourist exhaust from the cars. There were so many cars coming in, you couldn't help that. But the lead?lead-free gas?is a shame. You can see the difference in the town since they put lead-free gas in. As far as other environmental changes?this is important for you to know?when you cut down trees, forests, to build homes or cement sidewalks, these are not desirable changes because you want your forest to stop the erosion. When you do it in a desert, when you build homes and plant trees and lawns in a desert, these are welcome changes because you're taking a wasteland. If I had my way, I would stop any further encroachment on the forest preserves or on lush vegetation areas to put in concrete and (inaudible) and everything else. I would rebuild the wastelands and leave the good land for nature to take care of. That's the future of this country, I think, rebuilding all these arid wastelands. I built the first?well, the first shopping center in this town. But I also went way out in the desert on a mesa and I built by that country club out there and that was just the most arid desert you can imagine, just a lot of bad land. And we put in lakes and there's grass out there and we planted hundreds and hundreds of trees and now it's a beautiful, beautiful area out there. Now, this is reclaiming bad land; it's not destroying good land. So I think we serve a purpose here in Southern Nevada. We're making this community very habitable. We're inviting other people to come here while we're saving other areas of the nation. What about social changes? Social changes have been many. The first speech against Jim Crowism in this town was made by 5 me in 1946. Even the mayor at that time had a theater; Ernie Cragin had a theater, the El Portal. The last six rows on the left-hand side of the theater, the left side for the blacks; they couldn't sit any other place. They weren't allowed on the Strip. They weren't allowed to go into any hotels. It was Jim Crow all the way. We had buses that would come in from out of state, pull into the bus terminal. They had a restaurant at the bus terminal and no one black could go into that restaurant, only whites. That means you had to go over on the Westside to eat; and if you didn't have the time because you were going out to Kingman that means you had to go on without eating. Well, we raised so much hell about this. We fought the civil rights in this town long before it was fashionable. People called me everything under the sun. But we finally made the city commission pass laws to integrate the restaurant there or they would have to (inaudible) close down. Every right's change in this town took place practically in my office where I would have the members of the NAACP, members of the Strip hotels meet in my office or give us assurances that they were going to admit blacks before any confrontations resulted. Like many times the blacks were going to march and I would always ask them, what are your aims? What are your goals? And they gave you the goals and we accomplished it by getting agreements from the hotels, by getting agreements from the community that these goals of theirs would be realized before the confrontation resulted. As a result?well, you'd get a little skirmish at the high school once in a while. But, hell, when I went to school, I went to school in (inaudible) in a black neighborhood, also. I was fighting every day. Kids fight. When two whites fight it's nothing. If a white and a black fight, it's a race riot especially when the parents exacerbate it. 6 That was a social change, which practically?my office, myself, I took a part in every one of them?the meetings in West Las Vegas, the Moulin Rouge Hotel. The first time we had a march, I got every hotel to give us a signed agreement that they would admit the blacks and the blacks were going to test it by sending in (inaudible) whole groups. And I said, ?Just send in two or three at a time; don't just sit in every lounge because it's just going to create problems. Send two, three at a time.? And everything worked out. Not that I believe in being?in a moderate pace, but I don't believe it has to be done in a hurry. When you do have social change, revolutionary change, let's say, it has to be done intelligently, not making a confrontation of every little incident because that will hold it back. So even when they were going to picket the fights?when the black Muslims come in here from Los Angeles, they were going to create a lot of problems at one of the big heavyweight fights. We settled that damn thing in my office about an hour before that heavyweight fight went on. Otherwise, the fight could not have gone on because the cameramen, everybody, national television wouldn't cross picket lines. In the past twenty-five years or twenty years, what would you say is the most interesting change in the history that you've noticed? In the history of Las Vegas? Uh-huh. Well, the most interesting change because it still looks upon us as a backward area, Nevada, because we just turned down the ERA Amendment. They compared us to Mississippi, almost. This was done purely for...legislators who thought they were following the dictates of some community body, which is not true. They just don't come from the stock that you cannot mentally adjust to change, to a forward moving society. A few of the legislators we know to be 7 corrupt. Of course, if you give them some money, it would have changed their votes. One in particular I know would have changed their vote. But the important change that this was a very conservative area in the past. When I first came here, in doing research one time we found boxes full of crunched (inaudible) forms (inaudible) names (inaudible). It was that type of a community. It has changed into a very cosmopolitan, metropolitan type of community with a lot of liberal thought and tremendous cultural thought. Formerly it was an arid society; it was so barren of any cultural achievement. Now some of your finest musicians live here. Your artists live here. Your ballet dancers live here. It's becoming a center for the performing arts to a great degree. It's all because of the entertainment industry, which is such a forward, progressive type of industry where they know of no barriers except a man's talent. His lack of talent is the only barrier to his ability?I mean to his success. So I think the entertainment industry has been a great factor in opening up our society into a much better society, a culture group. It certainly challenges intellectual thought and that's what's important. We've become an intellectual community (inaudible) physical community. And there was a time when everything was settled here by the gun or by fistfights in the street. Now everybody is so conscious of the law they immediately take you to court. These are changes, which I think our newspaper helped make, because we're responsible for an awful lot of legislation in this area?I mean legislature, because of the campaigns in which we got involved. I think the proudest achievement of ours is the Sun News Forum. I don't know if you're familiar with it. I've heard of it. That's been going on for eighteen years now. All the high school participate once a year. They 8 choose their own subjects, the panelists. They discuss it. They choose their finalist who they get television exposure. They sum up whatever their thinking is for the whole group, the whole panel. I used to put on shows for them after they had their discussions. I had Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, all of them in one show, putting it on for these students. I used to hold it at the convention center and all the hotels downtown. I used to take them to big dinners. But because of the young people of this community having a voice?I owned a television station, KLOS TV at one time, so I used to have them on television. I'd have all the finalists, summarists we called them, on television. Also, I put them in the newspaper in my column. They'd each sum up in my column their (inaudible). And I would insist that all public officials come to hear these young people and their summaries. A lot of that became legislation, evolved into legislation in this state just by listening to these young people, what they were thinking about, what they were expressing themselves. So we gave a voice to the young people here long before any other community did. That's why we never had these tremendous riots that just swept vertically in UCLA and every other place because the young people knew they had a voice that they can express themselves and they weren't crying in the wilderness that nobody would listen to them. We listened. And I made our senators listen. I made our governor listen. I made all our public officials listen. This is what was important in this community. That's part of that social change. We accomplished it lovelessly and that's important. The civil rights changed, blacks versus whites, and the young against the more stodgy. We accomplished it without violent confrontations. In other words, you could have social change and have a social revolution without bloodshed and Las Vegas is a living example of that. Would you say that this probably was the most important change that you had taken part in? 9 I will say that. I will say that. Where you can get races to understand each other better and you can get the sexes and the different age groups to understand each other, to have a level of discussion, to be able to communicate with each other, this is so important for any community to grow and prosper along proper lines where people will talk to each other. We tried to knock down every damn barrier that the others tried to erect, and there are plenty of people. You want to see letters? I can show you?boy, I don't have them right here. Poison pen letters come in every day. Every one of them, they're the most vicious, vicious letters. Here's one from Valley High School. I wouldn't dare run this thing it's so incendiary. They're outrage. ?Today at my school my son learned his first real lesson in race prejudice. When he explained it to me later, I learned that the old and outdated notions of race, color and creed can easily be rekindled by anger and with deep hatred. Today in the main corridor of Valley High School my son was set upon by six or seven Negro thugs who appeared out of nowhere without warning, fists flailing and mouths cursing. My son was battered and bloodied simply because he was a white student on his way to class. Blacks are bussed into predominantly white area.? They write all this. And if we printed stuff?they want letters to the editor?if we printed this, this is incitement to race hatred. Now, we check every one of these out. We know that there are just as many white offenders as there are black offenders because kids are that way. They're going to instigate each other and they're going to needle each other. When the police charged in at the very first time, I called a meeting?police chiefs, the sheriffs and everybody else. I says, ?Under no circumstances would we ever have any more police patrolling campuses. If they're going to be there, they should be where they are not seen. Keep them in their cars many blocks from the schools in case you expect something.? Because we were tipped in advance when something was going to happen. ?But keep them away because 10 the presence of police in areas of public education, it's incendiary. It incites the young people. Kids like to be martyrs. They like to get their names in the papers just like the old people do. If we're going to give them the ingredients to create turmoil, they're going to seize upon it. They're exhibitionists to some degree.? We only had one?it wasn't really a violent one, but we only had one and that was the last time police sat in front of a school. Now they're off in the distance. I had the same thing down at?I tried to get the school officials to call all the media in together where there would be a silent agreement among us that we will not publicize any altercations in the schools because the moment you start giving publicity to it, it breaks out all over. Like you throw a bomb and you print it and you get bomb throwers start all over. A kidnap letter, then kidnap extortion letters start. It incites the sick minds. They watch television. They read it in the newspaper. I don't believe in suppressing the news and I don't believe in inciting to violence. So that's why I would never print letters like this. Instead we tried to keep a lid on it, not until it explodes, but certainly until it's corrected because, otherwise, it triggers it all over the community. That's the job of a publisher and editor; he has to have certain civic responsibility. We can sell far more papers if we have a race riot in the school, a big headline. Hell, we'd sell out. But I don't want to prosper at the cost of devastating an entire community. Is there anything else that you might want to add that you feel is important that I haven't covered? In order to give a proper perspective of the community, a concept of it, a history of it, you have to realize the forces, the motivating forces in the community. If you have a corrupt public official (inaudible) society, society will eventually go down. We learned our lesson as far as 11 organized crime. We were the first ones to expose the organized crime trying to infiltrate the gaming industry. I was boycotted because of it. I was threatened. Everything happened to me. But we accepted it as the hazards of running a newspaper. And we believed we eliminated most of the vestiges for organized crime and it took many, many years to do it. I've suffered; I mean the paper has suffered because of the boycotts, so to speak, from all the different (inaudible). And then we got the Hughes situation here, which is this just vast financial power. It was so all consuming, so overwhelming that it controls your legislators, your executives, and even your courts. I have nothing against Hughes personally. I mean the man is, I don't think, not going to be here much longer. But he has always used his wealth to condition anyplace that he has chosen to make his safe nest, a condition to such a degree that it's like a captive entity of his. In fact, in his own voice in court trial, a Maheu trial in Los Angeles, he says, ?If I ever move to the Bahamas, I want you to go down there in advance and condition that community to where it would be a captive entity of ours.? Now, this is a sovereign power. He wants the captive entity of his. He did the same with a national public official, state or local. Probably the only time in the history of this state that a governor went clear to London to visit with a man to find out if he's suitable to operate gaming; it happened in this case. They wouldn't do it for anybody else, for any other citizen. The courts are scared to death of him. There are memorandums of his, which I have in my safe here which I acquired later on when I found out he was going to break news, he was going to keep this town closed one whole year just to break the culinary workers' union. Tom Bell who was his (inaudible) master?he was a personal friend of?he used to hand out the campaign contributions with instructions. ?Tom Bell, you condition this legislature so that not a single bill will be passed without our okay. And I don't want a street name changed in Las Vegas without our official approval.? 12 So with this kind of a power in our midst, we have to make certain it doesn't happen again by permitting this monopoly aspect where a man controls one-sixth of the industry and can always threaten to close them down and put a lot of people out of work. We have to be continually on guard that they don't walk out with the courts and the legislature and the executives. So these are the kind of problems that a free society faces. It's like Watergate; you have to be continually?with Watergate we purged a corrupt political system. Now we have to do the same with a financial system that is so powerful that it's even more corruptive than the political system. That's what we have (inaudible). As I see, in a town of this size with all the conflicting emotions, the role of the newspaper is to sort of balance out your society. You exalt lowly and you kind of pull down the highest things; try to equalize them a little more. You give the little fellow a place in the sun and you take the big guy down off his pedestal and maybe try to balance things off so there wouldn't be these continual confrontations and fights. That's all I can think of. Very good. [End of recorded interview]