Archie Curtis oral history interview, 1979 March 07. OH-00462. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1xk87t0s
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UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis i An Interview with Archie Curtis An Oral History Conducted by Lawrence R. Biggs 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 Archie Curtis ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 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 Archie Curtis iv Abstract On March 7, 1979, Lawrence R. Biggs, interviewed local sports enthusiast and blackjack dealer, Archie Curtis, (born August, 10, 1941 in Vidalia, Louisiana) at his home in North Las Vegas, Nevada. He relocated to Southern Nevada from Louisiana in 1942. The interview primarily focused on athletics in Nevada, but also covered racial discrimination on the Strip, social and environmental changes, and the local health effects of the early atomic tests. Archie recalls attending the Westside Elementary School, before attending Madison Junior High School in Las Vegas. He describes playing sports for the school teams and playing against schools, such as, the Fifth Street Elementary School, which was located on Las Vegas Boulevard North, and also J.D. Smith Elementary School, which is located in North Las Vegas. He played against schools in Virgin Valley, Moapa and Caliente. UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 1 Archie were you born in Southern Nevada? Ah. Yes. I was born in Vidalia, Louisiana, and came to Southern Nevada, in 1942, and from then I attended Westside Elementary School in Las Vegas, in 1947. And completed my elementary school there at Westside Elementary at Washington and D in 1952. And then, at Madison Junior High School, I completed that in 1955. Archie, when you went to school did you play any sports there? Ah, yes, I played at Westside Elementary School three years on their freshmen, which is considered the JVs in high school. And from then, they built a new school on Madison and J on the Westside. Which was Junior Highs School, which was named Madison Elementary Junior High. In 1955, we also played sports against Fifth Street Elementary School, which was located on Las Vegas Boulevard North, and also J.D. Smith Elementary School, which is located in North Las Vegas. And we had three or four different numbers of elementary schools within the city of Las Vegas, we played. And also we played against Virgin Valley, Moapa and Caliente. We went up there to play tournaments and also Kingman, Arizona, at that time. And after the season end, we continue to participate in basketball and track and after that year ended, 1955, we played on a baseball team, which was named— (Laughs) The baseball team, which was named, Softball Night. And after the season over, which we won that season, with a record of nine and two, at Madison Elementary School. So, after that year, I attended Las Vegas High School in 1956. Completed the school with an average of 2.5. Went to the University of Reno for three years—attended there 1959 through ’61. When you played ball in Las Vegas, do you remember any of the coaches’ names that coached you through the sports? UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 2 Oh, yes. I remember Coach Yare, which was my end coach when I was a freshman, and Coach Jackson, he works in the El Cortez now, a head shift boss. And during that freshman year I had a very successful year as a freshman playing football there. In the second year, I also had the same coaches, which they promoted themselves to varsity. Which Coach Collins was the head football coach at Las Vegas High School for at least fifteen years, and Coach Lee was also the head line coach. Which later on, three years later, Coach Lee left and went to Anaheim, California, which at that time I was very sad to see him leave. Because he made me out to be a very good football player. What position did you play when you played football? Well, I played, my first year as a JV player, I played end and linebacker. And the following three years on varsity football team, I played fullback and linebacker. And also, I played quarterback on defense. When you came out of Las Vegas High, did you receive any honors as a graduate? Yes. I received a, two honors was given to me at that particular time of my graduation year, which one was, Most Outstanding Player on the football team, and the Most Valuable Player during the whole four years of participating in football at Las Vegas High School. And I also received a scholarship four years at the University of Reno, which is UNR, and at that time, I left Las Vegas in 1960 and attended the University of Reno, which was my first year as a freshman. Do you think the athletics has gotten better in Las Vegas since you played in high school? Oh, yes. Definitely. Las Vegas has a very unique type of athletic—the director here, the director of athletes here in Las Vegas, I think he used to be my assistant line coach in Reno. (Laughs) So, I know him, actually, but I can’t remember his name right as of now. UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 3 Tell me a little bit about your years in UNR before you came back to Las Vegas. Well, when I was a freshman I played football, as I said before, I had a full four-year scholarship in Reno. And also, after the football season was over I participated in the boxing, National Boxing Scholarship Fund they have in Reno. Which was very fundable by the community, at that time. Which I fought in the WNC Nationals, two years, 1961 and ’60. And I fought in the Olympics in 1960. Therefore, from then I went on through my junior year, which ended my career. (Laughs) Therefore, I got married, started working at Harold’s Club in 1963, working security for Harold Smith, Jr. Which everyone knows of Harold’s Club in Reno, one of the first and most famous clubs up north. And gotten married right after my career ended, which was 1963. Did you want to come back to Las Vegas after you went to school there or were you undecided? Well, at that particular time I wanted to come back to Las Vegas. But my fiancé, her, and her family lived in Reno, so therefore that caused a slight problem within my marriage. So, therefore, I had to stay there to satisfy her, you know. (Laughs) Oh. But later on after her and I gotten a divorce in the time of two or three years, therefore I came back to Vegas in 1968, and started a new career. Did you remarry? Yes. I remarried to a beautiful young lady, which fortunately I’m still with. Mm-hm. UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 4 Her name is Annie Curtis. My name is Archie Curtis, and I think I have a beautiful marriage, this time. Where’s your wife from? She’s from Austin, Texas, which is a small little city in Houston, right on the outskirts. But she originally was raised in L.A. Does she enjoy living in Las Vegas with you? Oh, yes. This is a big, ah—this is a big experience for her, as far as I’m concerned. Because she’s so excited, you know—seeing the lights and the weather, it’s so much different from California. With the fog and the congested traffic situation that they have there on the freeways. Do you find any problem, well, maybe a difference or I guess it is a problem raising children in Las Vegas, ‘cause it is such a glamorous, maybe a phony town? Yes. It’s quite a problem in the city, raising kids, you have to stay pretty much on top of everything to keep ‘em out of the casinos. This is one of the main problems. Because most of the kids in the area here, in the city of Las Vegas, you find most of ‘em being run out of the casinos, at different ages from seventeen to nineteen and twenty. At that particular age, you don’t have nowhere for these kids to go. So, therefore they wind up gambling, hanging in the casinos, running the streets late at night to try to find some type of enjoyment, so that they can enjoy their self, you know, in the city. Do you think the age should stay at twenty-one in Las Vegas or do you think it should be lower? Well, I think they should make some type of adjustment on the age because we finding now that throughout the last five and ten years, we have been putting more teenagers out of the casino, UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 5 from age levels from eighteen to twenty, than from the one that is corrupting the place, from twenty-one to twenty-five. Uh-huh. Archie is your church activity a big part of your family life? Yes. It is a big part of my family life. Which for the last few years, I haven’t been attending church like I have been. But in the future I’m planning on starting back, which may be the next following Sunday, just as soon as I can get my off days, on my job, changed. So, therefore, my family really wants the whole family to attend together. And this plan that the family and I have been speaking of, we are trying to get it together so we can attend church as a family group, not as a separate party. And the church that we attend is the Church of God and Christ, which is a very satisfying church, you know. Archie, what is your occupation? Well, my occupation as of now is a 21 dealer, which I deal 21, roulette, craps, and also I work on the floor, two or three days a week as a floor man. And it alternates from different times throughout the week. This is a common lifestyle in Las Vegas, to deal 21 at different hours. You find there’s any kind of difficulty in your family life or bringing any problems? Well, you said it did interfere with church a little bit. Any other problems? Yes. This is a problem for family. The reason that I think it’s one of the main problems for a family is because certain families, which is the wife would like for her and her husband to be at home during the night hours and also help raise their children. But it, in the past, has created a problem in the family, which is corrected at this time, which I‘m very satisfied myself. Do you remember the hotels back in, when you were young in high school? Do you remember what they were like compared to now? UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 6 Oh gee, it is the big difference now and the luxury that we have now is no comparison to the time that when I was in high school. Because at that time in 1955 to ’59, we only had two or three hotels that we could communicate with and also was in the working order. But all other parts around the hotel was pretty much desert and sticks and you know, a lot of dust blowing most of the time. Do you think the tourists coming in to the hotels is a positive thing for the community or negative? Well it is a positive thing for the community and also ah, uplift, and to help expand the city, with the tourist financial doing for the city. Which makes the city expand plus to be able to build and have beautiful things for the tourist to see. Not only losing their money, they would be able to enjoy some of Nevada’s beauty, and also the casinos. Were you ever active in any kind of politics or anything in Las Vegas or Nevada? Yes. I helped campaign, which is this past year for Bob Rose, which he lost the general election by a pretty large margin. Which I was very dissatisfied because during the primary he won by such an alarming decision, it really threw me for a loss. I couldn’t understand the difference between the thirty and forty-five days to the general election. Do you think maybe it’s because the people of Las Vegas are sort of hidden from politics because they’re overcome by the gambling or the casinos, rather than, you know, being knowledgeable of the community? Yes. I think so. And also, I would like to say this, Rose was a pretty much fair and decent man that was running for this position. And also, the people that voted for him the first primary election, I couldn’t understand why the same people turned their vote during the general election. Which made quite a difference in this race for government. UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 7 Is, you’re a dealer, a 21 dealer, do you find that gambling is a recreation for you? Well, it is also a recreation for me, plus it is a relaxer, in certain, at certain times. I feel myself relaxing and enjoying the tourists from different parts of America and meeting different people and you find out so many different things about different states and different laws and there’s just so many things that is so interesting the way people from different parts of the city tells you. Does your family participate at all? Ah, not in the gambling industry, you know. My wife she is a cosmetologist, who owns a shop at 2559 Las Vegas Boulevard and we have had that for two years. And she enjoys playing keno a little bit and a few slots. But to indulge in a big action financially, she don’t participate too much. What does your—you and your family do for recreational activity? Oh, we visit the parks, go to Mount Charleston for picnics, Lee’s Canyon, and also the Tule Springs, and ride the horses, and barbecue. We like music quite a bit, outside and indoor music. Also participates in racecars. Which is very exciting. Archie, as a black man do you find any pressures or prejudices against you or on your job or in the community? Mm-hm. I—I don’t know, as a black man, find any pressures at all? Yes. I have felt quite a bit of pressure at certain positions and certain jobs. Which I was fired at the Dunes in 1976 and tried to see the personnel director, therefore, he always was never in and before I could see him every day, for the last four or five years. And at that particular time I couldn’t get an answer from him why I was terminated. Therefore, so, I had a friend of mine’s, which, Ralph Delagotti, went and seen the manager of the casino. Which at that time was George Dugworth, and he wouldn’t give Ralph no answer. Which at that time Ralph (Laughs) could not UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 8 understand that. The reason that I was terminated because it was slow. But thereafter, the next two days, they hired four ladies. Mm-hm. So in this type of casino business for blacks it’s not the best opportunity for promotions. It’s pretty hard for promotions, the supervisory capacity. Can you compare it to other to other places such as Reno or California, the differences? Do you think the prejudices are stronger here or stronger in other places? Well, as far as I can see, it’s very strongly in Vegas. Because I have been here ever since (Laughs) I was eighteen months old and things have been pretty difficult for me, as a black man. Why do you think the prejudices are stronger in Vegas? Do you—can you think of any reasons? Or, you just think it is? Well, at this particular time, the reasons is being black, has been my holdback, in many cases. Because at one time in Vegas, blacks wasn’t allowed in the casino Downtown or either out of the Strip. And that was during my high school career. As a young teenager I could not understand that growing up in this city, and going to schools with white and yet in still I couldn’t go in the casino. Do you think it’s improved tremendously or at all compared to then, or? Well, it has improved since then. No doubt about that. But it can get a lot better, and I hope in the future that someone would start working on it, as of this year. Because at supervisory capacity, we have just a handful of floor men. Which in this city we have almost a hundred thousand blacks. And the percentage of supervisor and floor men is very slim in this city. Archie, when you were young, you were in a lot of sports. How—you were pretty talented, too. How’d you get interested? How’d you get started in doing that? UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 9 Well, I really found interest in sports when I was watching one of my older brothers, his name is Overton Curtis, which he taught six years at Roy Martin Junior High School on Eastern Avenue, and ten years at Valley High School, which is still there now. He was the head track coach and head freshman football coach. And during the years of my teen years, watching him at Las Vegas High School—which he was All-American two years in a row, which was his sophomore and junior years—and he impressed me so much that I didn’t see no other way but to try to follow in his footsteps. Now I think I did a pretty good job. What about your other brothers, are they still in town or did they raise families here? Or where are they located at? Yes. I have eight more brothers, matter-of-fact, five sisters. Which I am the youngest of the family, make fourteen, and all of my brothers and sisters are located in Las Vegas; west in Las Vegas. And they have a business which is located on F and Jackson, and also a Chevron Standard Service Station. That’s located on H and Owens. Therefore, they leave me no alternative but to stay in Las Vegas. What about your occupation throughout, you know, since you’ve been in Las Vegas, have you done anything else besides dealing? Oh, yes. I worked at the telephone company in 1961, for about six months. And also, I worked at the police department for one year, patrolman for the city of Las Vegas, which was not too interesting at the time, so I resigned the first year. Archie, ninety-five percent of Nevada’s owned by the government, there was a lot of testing here, the atomic bomb, above-ground and below ground, do you think it was fair to people (unintelligible) at all? UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 10 I think that the government need to take a good survey with our people—with the people voting legislation. Because I think this testing is more dangerous to the health of the people in our city. Because whether (unintelligible) proven throughout the years and also in Utah. They have created a bad health situation for the last ten years. How has the weather changed from when you were young till now? Have you seen a drastic change or difference, or snow, or anything like that? Yes. Since I’ve been here there has been a period of one or two. ’79 now I have seen snow three times. Which the first time was in 1949 and the second time was in 1972. (Unintelligible) Archie, from what I understand from your wife, I heard you have a strange way of celebrating the New Year. Could you elaborate a little bit on it? Yes. The last past New Year’s I mentioned to my wife that I was down on Fremont, pistol out, I went to shoot it a few times to celebrate New Year’s. Which I thought would be a very exciting moment, you know, something new to show my son that, you know, this the way I used to celebrate New Year’s years ago. So what I did, the last past New Year’s, I got my gun and I had the radio turned on, waited for the last second count down. Therefore, I opened the back door, and shot my pistol at the strike of twelve. Therefore, I shot a telephone wire down. (Laughs) Not noticing it. Which the next moment, I went back into the house to call my brother. Therefore, my telephone was disconnected, I was thinking at the time. (Laughs) So, I told my wife that we better stay in because someone, I think, might be outside, and they might have just cut our line. (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Archie Curtis 11 So, therefore, we stayed in until the next morning and when we woke up I looked outside and noticed that the telephone wire was down. And therefore, she stated that I shot it down. (Laughs) Not knowingly, I’m arguing back with her, different words and therefore I called the telephone company to notify them that the line was broken. This has been an interview with Archie Curtis. It took place at 9:00 o’clock P.M. On the 7th of March, 1979, in his home at 2192 Berg Avenue in North Las Vegas. He was interviewed by Larry Biggs of 262 East Harmon Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada.