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"Chapter 7: Civil Rights in a Resort City": manuscript by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1970 (year approximate) to 1996 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Unpublished manuscripts file. Pages 274 -313 of unknown manuscript.

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man000943. 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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Chapter 7: Civil Rights in a Resort City
Aside from the political fragmentation besetting the valley, racial divisions ripped Las Vegas apart In the years after 1960. Riots and marches were especially damaging to a resort town whose glittering Image was east ly stained by bloodshed and violence. To be sure, the roots of social inequality lay deep In the city's past.
The presence of blacks and other minorities date from the towns' first years of settlement. As early as 1905, the railroad employed at least one black man and several Chinese and Mexicans on its local crews. Fearful that Integrated housing might encourage more minority residence or discourage white interest in the new railroad town, Las Vegas Land & Water Company President Walter Bracken tried to confine especially blacks to Block 17 (next to the brothels and taverns on Block 16). However, the relative lack of minority residents dampened white Interest In residential segregation until the early 1940s. Nevertheless, while early Las Vegas society was relatively fluid and no formal segregationist barriers were erected, there were elements of discrimination. The town's First Methodist Church, for instance, discouraged black membership to the extent that local blades in 1916 had to form their own Home Mission. The Methodist white minister doubled as the Mission's director as well. In addition, early fraternal orders like the Elks, Masons, Eagles and others restricted their membership to whites.1
Gradually, the black population inched up. By 1925, there were about fifty blacks in Las Vegas. Most men were attached to the railroad as porters or repairmen, although a few served as custodians or In other menial capacities. The working women were mostly maids and
housekeepers for white families. Even into the 1930s most blacks lived downtown, clustered largely around Block 17, with the rest spread around an eight-block zone bordered by First, Fifth, Ogden and Stewart Streets. Unlike towns in Mississippi, Arizona and even California, Las Vegas countenanced relatively little segregation except for the brothels on Block 16, the El Portal Theatre and, ultimately, the Hoover Dan project Barred by city and state laws from patronizing local brothels, blacks received their own "colored annex" on Block 16 in 1934 when the city canmission granted s license to the Idle Hour Club.
Gambling, however, was a different matter. Following the legalization of the industry in 1931, clubs scrambled for business in a fiercely competitive market Moreover, many of the casino owners had operated these clubs as taverns prior to 1931 and had regarded local blades as regular customers. As a result, major Fremont Street establishments like the Northern Club, did not begin to discriminate until the late 1930s. The only exceptions were a handful of individual clubs farther out on the Boulder Highway which catered mainly to dam workers (many of whom were southerners). In general, the relative lack of blacks in the county (58 in 1930 and under 200 according to the 1940 census) was a major factor in allaying white fears.2
While blacks were few, they were not quiescent Formation of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had already occurred in 1926. As early as 1931 a strain of militancy began emerging after Six Companies, Inc. adopted an unstated policy of excluding blacks from the Hoover Dam project This was particularly Irksome to black Las Vegans who, like their white counterparts, saw the dam as an opportunity to secure higher-paying jobs. Their frustration led to the formation of the "Colored Citizens* Labor and Protective Association of Las Vegas" in May 1931. The organization's main goals consisted of desegregating the dam project, while also combatting the growing discrimination against black labor in all trades locally.
The dam became an immediate target because it symbolized the nascent segregationist movement in town. At the association's request, Leland Hawkins of the NAACP came to Las Vegas
in November 1931 to confer with local officials. Six Companies* continued intransigence eventually prompted several visits from NAACP regional representative William Pickens in early 1932. Anxious to defuse the controversy, Mayor Cragin and other civic leaders transmitted their concerns to Senator Taskar Oddie who^along with the NAACP and American Bar Association, pressured Interior Secretary Raymond Wilbur into forcing a change in the contractor’s policy. Finally in July 1932, the first ten blacks were hired. But it was only a token response; by 1936, only forty-four individual blacks had been employed (a few several times) on the project compared with more than 20,000 different whites.3
In the face of growing white hostility, blacks responded by forming a variety of organizations to knit their local community closer together. In August 1932, for instance, local veterans excluded from white veterans* groups, formed their own Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Blacks were also active politically, creating their own "Colored" Democratic and Republican Party Clubs. As in other western cities, blacks were barred by charter from participating in white party councils. Following the completion of Hoover Dam, however, the pressure eased, as many white workers moved on to the Pacific Northwest for the Grand Coulee project Blacks, on the other hand, tended to remain in town, finding employment as porters, maids and maintenance men in Las Vegas* burgeoning resort industry. As the city's auto courts and small hotels began to multiply, blacks were welcomed as a source of cheap custodial labor. Their job security was strenghtened by the fact that other minorities did not migrate to southern Nevada in large numbers. As late as 1970, neither the Hispanic nor Asian population in Las Vegas exceeded 3,000! California, Arizona and other western states with large agricultural economies and prosperous cities attracted most of these groups.
Ironically, by the late 1930s, despite their growing importance to the community's infant resort industry, blacks faced more segregationist barriers. Although southern dam workers were gone, tourists (many of them southerners transplanted to California) increasingly expected southern Nevada to mirror the Jim Crow atmosphere of not only Dixie but the rest of
the nation. In response, Fremont Street clubs increasingly barred "negroes" from the bars and
gaming tables. Although the practice was not universal until World War II, it was widespread enough to prompt black leaders in 1939 to push for a “race and color bill" in the Nevada assembly to integrate all public accommodations. The measure died in committee after resort owners expressed fears that such a law would discourage out-of-state visitors and threaten the state's precarious economy. In the meantime, blacks now found themselves being denied service not oily in hotels, but also in a growing number of restaurwits and stores.4
As part of the evolving segregationist movement, white townsmen informally supported efforts to move blacks from Fremont Street to the old Westside section across the railroad tracks. Even before 1940, everyone knew that at least for the next two decades, most commercial and residential development would take place primarily east of the railroad lines. As a result, Westside land values had failed to keep pace with the city-wide appreciation of real estate. Actually, the old McWilliams Townsite had assumed a rundown appearance as early as 1910, when the railroad lavished its plat east of the tracks with water, electricity, paved streets and other capital improvements. Condemned to backwater status, the Westside languished for thirty years as a "ragtown," where poor whites and a few hispanics crowded into feeble housing often devoid of power, sewerage and even running water. Throughout the 1930s, the Westside somehow eluded the building boom occasioned by Hoover Dam. Chronically low land values attracted only low income or parsimonious whites.
Thus, for a town anxious to polish its image by ridding downtown of black residents, the Westside was a perfect solution to the troublesome problem. Increasingly, white Las Vegans added restrictive covenants to property deeds, limiting the sale of housing or land to “members of the Caucasian race." Historian Perry Kaufman has reported that Mayor Cragin's administration, in particular, promoted this informal zoning of the Westside after 1943 by refusing to renew the licenses of black-owned businesses downtown unless the proprietors
re-located to the Westside. White landlords contributed further to this informal conspiracy by banning black tenants beyond the Westside.®
Of course, trapped white Westsiders responded quickly to block the forced migration. In 1939, white residents petitioned City Hall to limit Westside lands to the Caucasian race only. In response, R.L. Christensen, president of the "Las Vegas Colored Progressive Club," asked the city to deny the motion which commissioners willingly did in October. Defeated in their efforts to oust the blacks, white Westsiders then demanded in vain that town authorities strictly enforce fire and building codes by prosecuting black violators. No such vigilance was forthcoming, however, because World War II would bring an unprecedented migration of blacks to work at Basic Magnesium. As a result, white Las Vegas would need the Westside as a dumping ground until BMI built enough black housing in Henderson or until the war ended and the defense workers left town. In the meantime, there would be no effort to enforce health standards which might have forced in the re- integration of the town.®
Confined to the Westside ghetto, blacks quickly built the foundations of a community. Physically and spiritually united by the growing tide of Jim Crow, blacks patronized their own merchants who now thrived with the trade of a captive market. Overnight, the demand for black barbers, waitressees and salesgirls boosted the community's economy just as it had in the black, Irish, Jewish and other ethnic enclaves throughout the country., Also contributing to this prosperity was the surge in black population. Prior to world War II, the local number of blacks was still small; only 178 lived in all of Clark County. This amount accounted for only 1 percent of the county's population. Three years later the Westside's black population exceeded 3,000, thanks to the recruitment efforts of Basic Magnesium. To accommodate the influx, the Defense Plant Corporation constructed additional housing for blacks near the plant.
Built by the Hammes-Euclemiler Company of Los Angeles, Carver Park eased the Westside housing crunch with 64 dormitory units, 104 one-bedroom, 104 two-bedroom and 52 three-beckoom apartments and bungalows. But it was not enough. Some workers crowded into a
new black shantytown called St Ann’s off the Boulder Highway north of BMI. Most, however, preferred the friendly confines of the Westside. Unfortunately, population growth outpaced new construction, and the wartime shortage of building materials worsened an already desperate housing and sanitary crisis. Lack of dwellings forced workers and their famlies to live in cars, tents, shacks and lean-tos. Yet, in spite of the squalid conditions, Nevada was still better than Mississippi where wages were low and the right to vote little more than a myth. City fathers could have taken steps to equip the 160-acre zone with more running water and toilets, but they did little;preferring instead to await the war’s end—an event which they hoped would inspire a prompt black departure.7
In the meantime, the influx of black defense workers hardened the segregationist trend. With the exception of the Alabam Club, dowtown casinos, clubs, and restaurants banned blacks in hopes of preventing violence md pleasing white customers. Fear of racial clashes was a major concern, because, in addition to defense workers, World War II brought many black soldiers to town. Camp Clipper, part of the Desert Training Center south of town, contained several black regiments who frequently came north on weekend passes. Then to, Camp Sibert in Boulder City contained several all-black units charged with guarding Hoover Dam.
In an effort to avoid the racial violence erupting in Detroit and other American towns, the Las Vegas police played an active role in confining black soldiers and defense workers to the Westside and even closing clubs which catered to a “mixed trade." For their part, black leaders, with help from Catholic Charities, organized a USO near the Westside School to service the recreation needs of black troops. Yet, despite of these efforts, violence flared. In August 1943, there were several injuries in clashes between black soldiers and police. A new riot erupted in January 1944, after a group of black soldiers drinking in the Harlem Club moved out into the streets and eventually wrecked the nearby Brown Derby. One soldier was killed and others were injured when the police moved in. The incident resulted in an order from tire West Coast Defense Command putting Las Vegas temporarily “off limits" to servicemen.8
Police patrols were almost the only symbols of the city’s presence in the Westside. For much of the war, the town largely adopted a hands-off policy with regard to the emerging ghetto. Then, suddenly in the late summer of 1944, as Hitler’s forces seemed headed for certain defeat. the Cragin Administration moved against Westside housing. As part of a “clean-up campaign," the municipality in September bulldozed seventy-five shacks which failed to meet building and fire codes. A few months later in 1945, the city continued its informal urban renewal program by razing another 300 substandard structures. While the move pleased health reformers, it only promoted more overcrowding in the Westside, because black residents, banned from the Huntridge Addition and other neighborhoods, had nowhere else to live.
Preferring to interpret the government's action as a benevolent effort at slum clearance ami renewal and not a ruse to force blacks out of town, Reverend Henry Cooke and a group of residents in August 1945 petitioned Mayor Cragin and city commissioners to pave “E" Street, the community’s main thoroughfare. The mayor, however, refused, claiming that the property s lack of assessed valuation would not cover the costs. Later in February 1946, Cooke again requested public improvements including the installation of fireplugs (there were only 13 for a 72-block area) and street lighting. Cragin again declined, citing low property values, but did promise a public swimming pool so that residents could refresh themselves during the hot summer months. In July 1947 a city pool opened on the Westside which, by the way, now made it possible to exclude "negroes" from the second public pool about to open in the white section of town.9
Aside from paved streets and decent housing, the ghetto also lacked other municipal services. There was, for example, no fire station until the 1950s. Worse still, the community lacked adequate medical care. No private hospital accepted "colored" patients; and while the city facility did, wards were segregated. Moreover, Jim Crow totally dominated the town's grammar schools; black children were forced to attend grade schools in the Westside. Of all government agencies, however, the police department posed the greatest threat. As in other cities, blacks
grumbled about police harassment Incidents were myriad. In February 1945, for instance, the city's lone black officer was suspended after beating a resident unconcious. Reports of other attacks were common as well as complaints about inadequate patrols and manpower. These and other events Inspired a second attempt by the Nevada NAACP to secure passage of a comprehensive state civil rights law. But, in 1949 the outcome was the same as in 1939; the bill died in an all-white committee.10
While the struggle for equality remained frustrated Into the early 1950s, progress was made in the fight to upgrade the Westside's housing conditions. Because of the area's importance as as low-income residential zone for military and defense personnel, the Westside seemed a likely candidate for funding under the 1949 law which gave President Truman's Fair Deal limited financing to build public housing in the nation's ghettos. The Westside's chances were enhanced by a 1949 housing survey which reported that 80 percent of the community's structures were substandard. Many dwellings lacked toilets and some even the basic amenities of running water, power and gas. Ini 950, federal funding was approved, and the city announced plans to build a "Marble Manor", a complex of 100 rental units on a 20-acre site on the edge of the Westside. Since the land bordered a white subdivision, there was opposition. White residents of nearby Bonanza Village, fearing a loss of property values, protested the plan. After a year of negotiation, the town finally agreed to save a 10O-foot wide buffer highway (Highland Avenue) between the complex and Bonanza Village. Only then did white opposition wane. Of course, 100 units did little to solve the minority housing crisis. Black suggestions that officials scatter other projects around the metropolitan area to relieve pressure on West Las Vegas were greeted with the same opposition present in other American cities. 1
In 1952 “Marble Manor" finally opened. In a related move, City Hall further implemented its long-stated policy of reducing Westside blight. In 1952, new Mayor C.D. Baker, kept a campaign promise made to Westside residents and spent $ 10,000 to pave B, C and E Streets. The "dust bowl" was finally eliminated in 1955, when rising land values finally
justified creation of a $550,000 "paving district" which eventually funded the paving, curbing,
guttering and lighting of all major Westside arteries. Then in 1956, the City Planning Department extended its slum clearance program by recommending that Interstate 15 be routed through part of the ghetto. By tying urban renewal to the federal freeway, Las Vegas became eligible for federal funding—a move which mitigated black opposition to Baker's highway route. In 1959, the commission surveyed the Westside and began "Project Madison"—a program which cleared forty-two acres bordered by Madison School, Van Buren Avenue, H and J Streets. Armed with $577,000 in federal funds (and $ 188,000 of local matching money), Las Vegas leveled dozens of rundown structures (200 families were displaced), and replaced them with 160 single-family dwellings. Of course, the black population’s growth during the four years it took to plan, finance and built the project, easily offset the new housing created.12
While public works slowly improved the quality of life on the Westside, the drive for civil rights was less successful. In 1953, blacks, led by members of the Reno and Las Vegas branches of the NAACP, supported another state civil rights bill introduced in the assembly by Las Vegas attorney George Rudiak. The bill, however, fared no better than its predecessors. Undaunted, Las Vegas activists then pushed for a municipal ordinance integrating all public accommodations. Their patience exhausted, black leaders increasingly took an aggressive stance to combat the growing strength of Jim Crow in the metropolitan area
Aside from discrimination in public places, open housing was suffering new defeats, especially in North Las Vegas. Recent federal laws giving black servicemen the right to integrate offbase housing brought conflicts in air force towns across the nation, and the Las Vegas area was no exception. On February 4,1954, a group of North Las Vegas citizens attended a Planning Commission meeting to protest the integration of several apartment complexes in the "Grandview" and "Williams Fourth" Additions near Nellis. Using a familiar argument, residents asserted that renting to "negroes" would lower property values. In response, North Las Vegas Planning Commission Chairman Leland McArthur suggested that residents form a "protective
association" to threaten developers who rented to blacks. Speaking for the military, Colonel Gabriel Diaz, a Nellis group commander, told the protestors: "It is your problem. In the air force we have no racial segregation. We have our directives and you have your laws." In the long run, the growing federal presence in North Las Vegas eased the prejudice faced by black servicemen. And, while in the interest of maintaining friendly community relations, the military has tended to downplay its effort in this regard, more than once Nellis officials pressured North Las Vegas officials in the 1950s and 60s to curb the discrimination and hostility practiced by individual store owners and landlords against black airmen and their dependents.
For local black leaders, these and other events convinced them of the need for municipal ordinances mandating integration. The main effort centered In Las Vegas, where city commissioners rejected a civil rights ordinance partially on the advice of City Attorney Howard Cannon. In an effort to reverse this stance, local blacks in January 1954 brought in San Francisco attorney Franklin Williams, an NAACP representative, to press the argument with municipal leaders. In a “packed meeting" of residents and city commissioners on the Westside, Williams urged Las Vegas leaders to pass a."civil rights ordinance." Requesting only the legal authority “to have a cup of coffee or throw a few nickels in the slot machines," Williams reassured the uneasy commissioners that "you don't have to sleep with or let me go into your home."
The attorney then attempted to refute a December 1953 opinion by City Attorney Howard Cannon which characterized the government's authority to pass civil rights law as "confused." Cannon had argued that because Nevada's constitution and statutes did not specifically provide for racial integration of public places, municipal efforts to do so might be unconstitutional. Williams discounted this theory and then, in a prophetic vein, warned town leaders that "Las Vegas is a non-southern city with the pattern of the deep south. There will always be discrimination and race trouble in Las Vegas if the ordinance is not put on the books ' In
284 response, Commissioner Reed Whipple wondered aloud whether such legislation might not lead to "bloodshed or other trouble"—to which Williams responded: "It's a cut and dried issue... Human rights In the western states are in a vacuum." And they remained in a vacuum. at least in Las Vegas for another six years, until protests and violence brought the reforms Williams had urged.14
In the resort city and county Jim Crow not only afflicted ordinary people but black stars as well. Prior to 1947, black headliners like Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne ate, slept and gambled at the hotels where they entertained. But, as Las Vegas attracted a larger clientele from the south and east, segregationist barriers rose. Between 1947 and the mid-1950s, top black performers were forced to rent rooms on the Westside. Mrs. G. Harrison, a blade landlord, ran one such operation on North F Street, although Mrs. Cartwright's rooming house was the most popular. In a later reminiscence, young Sammy Davis, Jr. of the Will Mastin Trio compared the Las Vegas ghetto to Tobacco Road. Equally disturbing was the landlords' practice of charging performers of their own race exorbitant rates ($ 15 per night at Cartwright’s while the El Rancho was asking $4 for a first-class hotel room). In spite of their disenchantment, nightclub performers like Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (Jack Benny's sidekick), Arthur Lee Simpkins, the Jubilaires and others remained on the Westside until the mid-1950s. Conditions improved somewhat in 1955 with the opening of the Moulin Rouge, the city's first integrated resort. While black entertainers still preferred to stay on the Strip, at least they were liberated from the roominghouses. Nevertheless, top stars like Nat King Cole ami Lena Horne continued to protest and finally, in 1955, the Sands became the first resort to permit black performers to stay at tire resort again. * §
Still, Las Vegas needed a place where all blacks could go. Efforts to provide black soldiers and tourists with an interracial hotel-casino date from 1942 when the Horace Heidt Corporation attempted to open the Shamrock Hotel downtown. Protests from nearby whites combined with the city's emerging Jim Crow policy to deny the hotel an operating permit. This move resulted
In an organized march on City Hall by several hundred blacks, but town fathers were adamant. Of course, during the war several clubs on the Westside catered to blacks, including the Harlem Club and the Brown Derby. But the next attempt to open an interracial hotel-casino came almost a decade after‘V-J Day. By 1950, blacks were welcomed on a regular basis in no casino, even though they totaled over 10 percent of the city's population. To exploit the interracial gambling and entertainment market which everyone knew existed, Will Max Schwartz acquired a parcel of land on West Bonanza Road near the Westside in 1954. After adding several partners including New York restauranteer Louis Ruben and Los Angeles broker Alexander Bismo, Schwartz began building his $3.5 million hotel.
When it opened in 1955, the Moulin Rouge was the only integrated casino-hotel in Las Vegas. It was also the only local resort in a predominantly residential area. In fact, when the project first was being considered by city commissioners in March 1954, Bonanza-area residents, who were mostly white, vehemently opposed its construction. Aside from the race issue, the location of the business within a neighborhood was viewed by many as a dangerous precedent. City Commissioners soon discovered that, even with restrictions which forced the resort to set back almost a hundred feet from the road, homeowners were still upset. In the future, city officials would be careful to restrict casinos mostly to the casino core downtown.16
Despite the protests, Schwartz’s hotel opened on Ms/ 24,1955, catering to a mixed clientele. As noted, the integrated accommodations finally liberated black stars from the ignominy of Mrs. Cartwrights's roominghouse. Unfortunately, the respite was only temporary: within seven months, casino losses combined with poor management to force the hotel into bankruptcy,. Sensing a conspiracy, local blacks were quick to blame the closing on white hotel owners and bankers, and even planned a series of protest marches. But, there was no conspiracy; mechanics' liens against the property testified to the fact that Schwartz had not secured enough financing originally to pay all the building contractors. Negotiations with creditors dragged on until 1957 when Leo Fry, owner of the LeRoy Corporation (a development
company), bought the hotel and re-opened It. Within three years, controversy once again engulfed the resort when a white patron, upon discovering that it was management policy to charge whites less for drinks than blacks, prevailed upon the local chapter of the NAACP to fight the price discrimination at City Hall.
The hotel which blacks had once revered now became the target of boycotts. Anxious to avoid the adverse publicity of black sit-ins, Mayor Oran Gragson and the city commission voted to revoke the hotel’s liquor license in I960 and again in 1961 and 1962 (since that time, bar operations have been maintained on a leased basis). In his defense, Fry contended that he had done nothing wrong, but was rather the victim of black resentment over white ownership of the resort. His argument possessed some validity: segregation or at least racial price discrimination had been countenanced for years throughout the metropolitan area. Whatever the virtues of the case, the Moulin Rouge controversy was significant, because it provided local blades with one of their first forums to organized protests—a precedent for the larger struggles to come.' ?
The key to racial progress was power, and until the 1950s local blacks lacked the numbers and leadership needed to exert political leverage against Nevada's white power structure. However, community leadership received a valuable boost in 1954 and again in 1956 when the town’s first black physician (Dr. Charles West) and dentist (Dr. James MacMillan) moved to Las Vegas. They Joined with established leaders like David Hoggard, Sr., Woodrow Wilson, Lubertha Johnson and a collection of black ministers to form a powerful core around which the local NAACP chapter would forge its successful civil rights struggle. Moreover, thanks to the continued growth of Las Vegas' resorts and restaurants, 16,000 blacks lived in the Westside by 1955. This was significant because, for the first time in their history, Las Vegas blacks had a strong population and political base with which to fight for civil rights.
campaign began almost immediately. Following the defeat of another civil rights bilfl
in 1957, black leaders redoubled their efforts to strengthen their position in Carson City.
Barred by charter from political intervention, the local chapter of the NAACP needed a political
arm. In 1957, Drs. West, MacMillan and others formed the Nevada Voters League, an organization capable of delivering black votes to friendly candidates. Beginning in 1958, the group supplied Senate hopeful and converted civil rights advocate Howard Cannon with 1,000 crucial votes in a close election. The following year saw the group deliver a thousand more to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Grant Sawyer.1 ® However, despite these activities and the lukewarm support of some white political leaders, no significant Inroads were made against the entrenched position of Jim Crow. Something dramatic had to be done to shatter white complacency.
In early 1960, following receipt of the NAACP's annual letter to local chapters urging an unrelenting effort to smash segregation, MacMillan decided to challenge Las Vegas' segregation directly. Discouraged by the cautious approach of Carson City politicians, MacMillan wrote a letter to Mayor Oran Gregson on March 11,1960. In the letter, MacMillan threatened massive street protests if downtown and Strip businesses did not cease discriminatory practices by March 16. With the nation already in the midst of a civil rights revolution, MacMillan knew that the resort city was especially vulnerable. Threatened marches linking Las Vegas with Montgomery and Selma would certainly have damaged the town's glittering image and cut tourism. MacMillan offered Gragson the carrot and the stick. While claiming that the NAACP intended to pursue integration of public facilities "in an amicable atmosphere," MacMillan refused to rule out "passive resistance" if the group's goal was thwarted. Echoing the views of many black Las Vegans, he asserted that "we want the segregation practice dropped for we feel it is the right of all people to patronize these places as long as their conduct is good." The timing of the ploy was perfect. Whatever their feelings about civil rights, hotel executives could not afford the negative publicity. While the city, of course, could not control the Strip's response, Gragson wanted to clarify the city's position regarding segregation downtown. To this end, he first called a "public meeting" because city officials could not legally meet officially behind
closed doors. The mayor. however. ebruptly cancelled the meeting (scheduled for March 23) after some political and business leaders expressed fears that it could become a "fertile ground for hot-headed agitators" and possibly an excuse for violence.19
At this point the sequence of events becomes muddled. There are no official minutes of the behind-the-scenes negotiations which took place. Oral histories provided by major participants are contradictory and self-serving. Historian Perry Kaufman has claimed that in a 1972 interview with Dr. MacMillan, the latter insisted that he attended a secret meeting with Gragson and City Commissioner Reed Whipple. According to MacMillan's account, both men asked the dentist to drop his demands. In return, Whipple, a First National Bank executive, allegedly agreed to cease redlining the Westside. It was well known that the bank had granted few home loans or mortgages to the zone. So, Whipple, if he ever made such a concession, was offering a substantial economic boost. But, according to Kaufman, MacMillan rejected all deals. Gragson and Whipple themselves subsequently denied that such a meeting ever took place.
Nonetheless, an agreement was reached somehow. Word came on March 26 that the city would order the integration of all public places within municipal borders and the Strip would voluntarily follow suit. At 6 p.m., MacMillan’s deadline, segregation barriers came down for the first time since World War ll.mda major crisis was averted. MacMillan then cancelled the threatened "sit-in-march" on March 26 following a meeting in the office with Mayor Gragson and Clark County Commissioners Clesse, Turner and Olson. As an additional part of the settlement, the men agreed to form a Southern Nevada Human Relations Committee where representatives of the black community, the police, government and business could discuss problems of mutual concern. Within days, an ebullient MacMillan reported that approximately 90 percent of area hotels and casinos had already heeded the agreement and integrated--a satisfactory compliance rate at the time. Subsequent NAACP efforts would focus on securing a comprehensive state civil rights law to bring all businesses into compliance and end job end housing discrimination.^
Growing black influence was soon felt in Carson City, when the 1961 session of the state legislature created an Equal Rights Commission to advise the governor about civil rights problems in the state. Black euphoria soon turned to scorn, though, once the Commission's impotence became obvious. During a January 1962 investigation by the newly-created Nevada Equal Rights Commission, hotel executives denied they had engaged in job discrimination against minority applicants. Although the hotels conceded that they employed no black dealers, waitresses, waiters, bellmen or office personnel, and only a "scattering of Orientals," they attributed the situation to the absence of qualified non-Caucasian applicants. While the lack of black casino workers could conceivably be attributed to lack of experience, hotelmen were hard-pressed to prove that blacks were not qualified to be waiters, waitresses and bellmen. Pressed by Commission members for statistics on past hiring practices, the hotels uniformly argued that they had never kept records relating to job prejudice based on race, creed or national origins. However, at the Commission's request, executives of the Hacienda, Flamingo and other hotels promised to collect the statistics. On the other hand, Sam Boyd of the Mint and Charles King of the Golden Nuggett flatly refused. Worse still, Ed Levinson of the Fremont Hotel and officials of the Sal Sagev downtown never even accepted the Commission's invitation to appear.
Subsequent testimony in January 1963 revealed that most Strip hotels employed less than 20 percent "non-Caucasians" and they were relegated entirely to positions as maids, porters, kitchen help and busbays; only the Riviera had two black bartenders. In response, Major Riddle of the Dunes attributed this policy to customer prejudices, observing that "four or five years ago, there would have been considerable customer opposition to negroes in (casino and restaurant) positions," but, he concluded, "things are changing." This sense of optimism was immediately challenged by NAACP activist Jones Anderson who demanded that Riddle and other Strip executives end the traditional "pattern of employment" in the upcoming summer hiring session.21
Since these and other hearings produced no reform, black frustration soon turned to anger. Tempers flared as early as January 1962 between Las Vegas black leaders and white officials in tire state government friendly to the civil rights cause. On January 26, Nevada Attorney General Roger Foley denounced one "trouble maker" in the black community who had written U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy making "irresponsible accusations" about Foley's supposed laxity in prosecuting civil rights violations. Las Vegas Baptist Minister Prentiss Walker allegedly wrote the letter in which he criticized both Foley and liberal Democratic Governor Grant Sawyer. Foley unofficially advised Walker and other black leaders against attacking the liberal white power structure in Carson City, and suggested instead that blacks their efforts on convincing the State Gaming Control Commission to consider making a casino's denial of civil rights grounds for immediate license revocation. Foley then shifted the burden to the legislative branch of government, asserting that the "only answer to the lack of civil rights in Nevada will come when the state legislature has enough guts to pass an effective law."22 a month the blacks had followed Foley's advice. I n February 1962, the Reverend Donald Clark, President of the Coordinating Council of all Nevada NAACP chapters, provided Governor Sawyer with the wording to amend state gaming regulations to prohibit discrimination in hiring, service or accommodations in gaming establishments. In addition, Clark sought the Governor's support for a stronger state civil rights law in the next legislature. Clark, current President of the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP, applied further pressure on Sawyer by threatening to sue in federal court if no positive state action was forthcoming. Referring to numerous cases of alleged hiring discrimination against black applicants for dealing and cocktail waitress jobs, Clark insisted that "the responsibility is Governor Sawyer's. He is head of the state; I hope he will be as literal in action as he is in conversation." Clark knew that Las Vegas and Nevada wanted no adverse national publicity, and hoped in vain that white leaders would move quickly to end job discrimination.2^
Finally in March 1962, after a series of fruitless meetings with Sawyer to discuss the weaknesses of the state's 1961 civil rights law, Reno and Las Vegas-area blacks grew strident. In a sometimes stormy 2 1 /2-hour meeting with the Governor, fifteen black representatives denounced the impotence of the newly created state Equal Rights Commission, and urged Sawyer to intervene personally against racial discrimination by invoking his executive powers. Specifically, they wanted the Governor to order the state Gaming Control Commission to revoke the license of any casino found guilty of discrimination. Sawyer responded that the Equal Rights Commission should be the state's main advocate of civil rights. Conceding that the Commission "hasn't perhaps been as aggressive as it should have been," the Governor nevertheless insisted that it was still a vigorous body—to which Las Vegas black attorney Charles Kellar angrily retorted: “it's been so vigorous that it hasn't even met. O'maybe it met once—when you greeted them." Encouraged by Attorney General Foley's view that the Gaming Control Commission could theoretically enforce casino adherence to a civil rights code, Reverend Clark again asked Sawyer to intercede. The governor instead urged the blacks themselves to approach the panel, and once again reiterated his confidence in the Equal Rights Commission's ability to combat discrimination.24
As Kellar and the other black attorneys knew, the Commission lacked the power to pressure the Control Board. For months the Commission had failed to compel four Golden Gate Casino executives to testify about charges of job discrimination at their establishment. Blacks therefore ignored the Commission and instead pressed for changes in gaming regulations. Sawyer was cautiously supportive, advising black leaders to seek a declaratory judgment from the courts as to whether the gaming commission had civil rights power. Foley, however, argued that the courts would only rule if the Gaming Commission, in a specific case, revoked a casino's license for race bias. Foley's view was vindicated a week later when the Commission rejected black demands to become involved, claiming that it lacked both the power and staff to pursue
racial discrimination cases. This rebuff, in turn, forced the NAACP to begin a new fight to secure a comprehensive state civil rights law.25
Despite the integration of public places, most Las Vegas blacks in 1963 still could not live outside the ghettos, or attend grammar schools in white sections of town, or qualify for more than a menial job in most Strip and downtown resorts. As tensions mounted in the black community, Charles Kellar and other black leaders cooperated with their Reno counterparts and sympathetic whites in a determined effort to pass a new state civil rights act during the 1965 legislative session. In March 1965, with the help of freshman assemblyman Mel Close, Jr. (D-Las Vegas), the campaign resulted in passage of A.B. 404, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color or creed in public accommodations and employment in places with fifteen or more workers, The bill’s future was less promising in the rural-dominated senate. In an effort to pressure the bod/, civil rights advocates organized a massive show of support. As Bishop Robert Dwyer threw the support of the Roman Catholic diocese behind the measure, an optimistic Bob Bailey, chairman of tire state Equal Rights Commission (and a Las Vegas television personality) called for mass demonstrations of support in Carson City.
Anxious to demonstrate support, Protestant clerg/ from around the state joined with priests, nuns and laity to organize a prayer vigil near the Capitol. On March 13, Las Vegas blacks joined other Nevadans in the rally which heard both Governor Sawyer and Lieutenant Governor Paul Laxart speak in benatf or xne bM. Following this, Las Vegas-area clergymen from the Methodist, Episcopal and Congregationalist churches (along with other denominations) wired their support of the bill to Carson City. This collective effort was rewarded finally on March 30, 1965 when the state senate approved the bill by a 12-4 margin, with Clark County Senator B. Mahlon Brown (the majority leader) and Lincoln County senator Floyd Lamb (later a prominent Las Vegas politician and Mormon) voting for the measure. While somewhat stronger than the federal civil rights act of 1964, the Nevada legislation still lacked an "open housing" provision. Nevertheless, following passage, an exuberant Governor Sawyer told reporters that he now
expected the Equal Rights Commission to provide "an active enforcement of the law and vigorous programs in defense of individual freedom."2^
The celebrations were premature. Despite the strongly-worded law, many downtown and Strip hotels continued to discriminate against blacks in employment. In April 1967, blacks staged a peaceful protest outside various resort hotels, but to no avail. Protest turned to militancy in early May when NAACP attorney Charles Kellar blamed the local Culinary Union and its Secretary-Treasurer Al Bramlet for failing to push the employment of black members. In a tersely-worded statement, Kellar threatened to "cut the union down to size" by asking the National Labor Relations Baord to de-certify it as the hotel workers' official bargaining agent. Then, in a conciliatory move, he met with representatives of both the union and Nevada Resort Association "to find out where the onus lies." Unwilling to compromise, Kellar demanded that more black waiters and waitresses be employed in the showrooms where tips were high, and that employees of the Desert Inn's all black-staffed Skillet Room be reassigned immediately to the hotel's other dining areas. Discussions were cordial but, from Kellar's point of view, fruitless. In the summer of 1967 Kellar appealed to the new Republican Governor Paul Laxalt for help. Laxalt was receptive and helped arrange a conference at Valley High School In early November. The day-long program of speeches and workshops featured addresses by James Farmer, the national director of Congress for Racial Equality, and several other prominent leaders, including an opening address by the governor himself.27
This conference had been preceded by a series of largely unproductive meetings on the Westside between concerned black and white officials. Typcial was an August session at the West Owens Shopping Center attended by Henderson Mayor W.R. Hampton, North Las Vegas Police Chief Nick Janise, Las Vegas Police Lieutenant Richard Dunn and such prominent black leaders as Dr. Charles West, Mrs. Lubertha Johnson (Director of (Deration Independence, a major anti-poverty agency) and Joe Neal (an equal opportunity compliance officer for Reynolds Electric). White officials again felt the sting of black anger, as Reverend Clark and others
complained loudly about white apathy toward festering Westside problems. As Clark angrily told state Equal Rights Commission Chairman William Deutsch: "You are nothing but a buffer. Why isn't the power structure here? Where is the mayor?... the Governor?... The county commissioners?" Despite the lack of progress and promises, talks continued into the fall of 1967. There was perhaps one bright spot. To its credit, the Las Vegas Police Department worked with black community leaders in placing greater emphasis upon minority group problems during police training and In developing a better community relations program on the Westside. But these reforms, while beneficial, did not remove the underlying causes of black unrest: segregated schools, housing and employment.28
Continued job discrimination eventually forced the blacks to act. In November 1967, the Clark County NAACP, led by its attorney and now President Charles Kellar, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in San Francisco against the local Culinary and Teamsters unions as well as eighteen hotels in the Las Vegas area. As Kellar explained to reporters, "negotiations with union officials have been absolutely futile. They were so their bailiwick they felt nothing could touch them. They'll soon learn otherwise." Specifically Kellar's complaint charged the unions with "failing to place (blacks) in other but menial positions; failing to upgrade them and by selecting certain positions which are considered for whites only." The hotels, in turn, were charged with engaging in “unfair labor practices," discrimination in hiring, training, promotion, payment of wages (black employees were often paid less for the same work) and overtime.29
While the NLRB investigated Kellar's complaints, there was no immediate federal action. In the meantime, evidence mounted supporting the black position. An April 1968 report by the State League of Women Voters acknowledged that the 1965 civil rights act had opened public * accommodations to non-whites, but criticized continued discrimination in employment and housing. As the report noted, "non-whites are beginning to be employed in stores and other consumer services, but most ram-white employment remains in menial labor." The League also
called for open housing and integrated schools "particularly in Las Vegas, where six Las Vegas elementary schools are wholly segregated because of housing." Again, Kellar and the local NAACP applied pressure in the form of peaceful protest marches around various hotels during the NAACP's southern California regional convention in Las Vegas. White leaders were unimpressed. In fact, both Governor Laxalt and Mayor Gragson privately urged Kellar to cancel the action, which he obdurately refused to do. Over the next few months, continued white footdragging over discrimination against blades only raised Westside tensions. Instances of discrimination were myriad. In November 1967, for instance, Nevada Equal Rights Commission Chairman William Laub reported the case of one black minister who had gone downtown to buy a piano for his church. He was stopped and spread-eagled against his car by Las Vegas police, called a "nigger" and warned that he was "not supposed to be on this side of town." Laub cited other examples: a black teacher who could not rent an apartment in white Las Vegas for eight months; a black college graduate offered only menial jobs--the stories abounded.30
Inevitably, black frustration turned to anger and then violence as it already had in thirty-seven other American cities. The Initial trouble brewed in the town's high schools all through January of 1969. Finally on January 23, a minor fracas broke wt at Rancho High School, but was quickly ended by North Las Vegas police. Tipped off about potential violence, officers equipped with riot helmets, mace and nightsticks arrived on campus an hour earlier and had no trouble quelling the disturbance. The next day, school officials joined with black and white student leaders in a series of discussions aimed at defusing the situation. Despite this effort, unrest spread to other schools. On Monday, January 27, a disturbance at Las Vegas High Jchool began after several whites tossed a black student through a trophy case. School District officials blamed the incident partially on the presence of three news reporters and a KRAM radio announcer who were interviewing students at the scene.
On the following day, in an effort to control the situation, county school chief Dr. James Mason banned the public and media from all school campuses in the metropolitan area. Two days
later. violence spread to Clark High School when a three-hour "sit-in type meeting" by black students triggered a "wild melee" of "near riot proportions" involving over 1,000 students. Mason closed the school temporarily and accused the newly-formed Afro-American Club of fomenting the trouble. The club, a black power group comprised mostly of young blacks between the ages of 18 and 25, was led by Francis Edwards, an employee of the federally-funded Equal Opportunity Board. In his assessment, Mason characterized the violence as premeditated and "part of the total racial picture that has been developing in the area high schools for more than a week." Determined to re-open the school, Mason insisted that "we will not tolerate any more of these disturbances and any students, black or white, who create trouble, will be dealt with to the fullest extent of both school rules and the law." The school chief also banned sit-ins and promised that future disturbances "would be put down by force ami students would be expelled.”
Despite his stance, Mason was somewhat conciliatory; after a three-hour session with the dissident Afro-American Club’s leaders, he agreed to grant a blanket amnesty to all youngsters involved in the Clark riot. On Monde/, February 3, Las Vegas-area high schools re-opened with all but Valley High requesting large police contingents. Parents, teachers and community leaders urged a peaceful return to class. Supporting this effort was LasVeoasSun editor Hank Oreenspun, who, while championing the civil rights cause, urged an end to violence. In an obvious reference to Selma, Watts, and Detroit, he reminded readers that "Las Vegas is one of the few areas in the nation that accomplished integration, upgrading of Jobs and wider participation on all levels. And it has been done with few protests, minimal marches and no violence." Insisting that "no school kid, white or black, should be terrorized or tyrannized at any time.'W Oreenspun concluded that "just as we could not permit any extremist groups to gain a foothold, be they Minutemen, Ku Kluxers—or even John Birchers, so must we discourage black groups that advocate hatred and violence." And this view was basically echoed by the other opinion makers and community leaders.31
But the violence did not end. By early October 1969. trouble spread to the streets of the Westside. On October 6, gang-related assaults sent twenty-three people to the hospital, as 200 Las Vegas police officers, supplemented by a force from the county sheriffs office, struggled to restore order. As tensions mounted, a concerned Governor Paul Laxalt reluctantly put the Nevada National Guard on alert. In the meantime, Las Vegas police took steps to quiet the situation. A 7 p.m. curfew in the ghetto at first helped preserve an uneasy peace. But, the next da/ saw two whites assaulted by black youths at the Golden West Shopping Center at H and Owens Streets. A commuter bus carrying Nuclear Test Site workers was pelted with rocks as it passed nearby. Fires were set along Hand J Streets and rocks were thrown at responding firemen. By afternoon, Las Vegas Fire Chief Jerry Miller refused to send his crews to minor blazes and sheriffs deputies stood at Highland and Washington Avenues, armed with shotguns, tear gas and pepper fog guns, awaiting city police calls for assistance. As the afternoon wore on, police sealed off the Westside and fired tear gas into groups of black teenagers in efforts to disperse them. Police sharpshooters positioned themselves atop the Golden West Shopping Center to get a clear shot at blacks sniping at officers from nearby homes.
Looting continued throughout the day at the nearby Wonder World Department Store, Western Auto, Dairy Queen and several liquor stores. A Mexican man, an elderly Test Site worker and other whites were beaten by gangs of black youths. As the violence spread southward to Bonanza Road, police ordered the closing of all Westside gas stations by S p.m. to discourage the making of fire bombs. Scattered disturbances continued into the night and for the next few days while police and community leaders (including the NAACP and church officials) worked feverishly to restore order. As was the case in Watts, Detroit and elsewhere, while older blacks took little part in the violence, they played an active role in ending it. 32
Following the unrest, black and white civic and political leaders met for days to prevent a
recurrence. Yet, despite weeks of negotiations, there was no significant progress made with regard to open housing, school desegregation, job discrimination and other festering problems.
As a result, violence erupted again. A two-day "rumble" in late November 1969 at Western High ended in ten arrests, six injuries and the school's indefinite closure. The melee involved over 200 students and brought over a hundred lawmen to the campus. Following the Western incident, police again were stationed at all area high schools. Their presence, however, hardly deterred violence in the streets. Within a week, trouble gripped nearby Vegas Heights when a Las Vegas Transit bus hit a fourteen year-old black youth. While the driver was later exonerated, passing buses were pelted with rocks, forcing the company to suspend service. This action only heightened tensions, because many black residents commuted by bus to their hotel jobs downtown and on the Strip. Nevertheless, Las Vegas Transit refused to run buses through the black and Hispanic community without a police escort But the hardpressed Las Vegas police demurred. As Assistant Chief John Moran explained: "we don't have the manpower to birddog buses through the neighborhood. It might have a deterrent effect if we did. Then again, they throw rocks at police cars, too." In the end, bus service resumed on a daytime basis and later, after considerable pressure from the city commission, at night.^3
While the town was relatively quiet for the next few months, the continued lack of reform only triggered more unrest. In February 1970, violence resulting from a race-related assault following a Clark-Las Vegas High basketball game, led to a bloody melee which briefly closed Las Vegas High. Then in May 1970, nearly seventy-five students at the school, angered by the defeat of black candidates in a student election, went on a rampage. Actually, the fracas was the school's third of the year, although the others had been relatively minor. This incident, however, touched off otter disturbances around town. The biggest troublespot was again Rancho High, where over 300 students were involved in a pipe-swinging brawl which sent nine pupils to the hospital. For the first time in Las Vegas history, police had to use mace after Rancho teachers sprayed dozens of students with fire hoses in a valiant effort to quell the violence. The Rancho riot was the worst single-day school disturbance during the entire civil rights movement in Las Vegas. It was followed the next day by another incident which saw fifty black students arrested
for throwing books in the library and refusing to attend class. Beleaguered school board officials, anxious to end the cycle of violence finally acted upon one longtime black demand, announcing plans to hire thirty more black teachers and ordering district recruiters to go as far east as Atlanta if necessary to get them.34
Following this concession, Charles Kellar and others pushed for school integration as well, but district officials neatly sidestepped this issue by singing the praises of their own "voluntary" busing plan. Actually, the struggle for school integration in Las Vegas had begun earlier in 1968 and played an undeniable role in helping to spark black student riots. A school survey conducted in January 1968 revealed that while all junior and senior high school blacks were bused to white schools, most elementary pupils were not. The survey, required by the federal government for district funding under the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965, also reported a dramatic lack of minority teachers. Over 2,544 whites held teaching positions in the district, while 134 blacks, 25 hispanics, 5 "Orientals" and two Indians accounted for the rest—this despite the fact that over 3,000 blacks alone attended local schools. Even in secretarial and custodial positions the whites dominated, claiming 1,143 of the 1,338 jobs in the district. While school authorities seemed pleased with the distribution, Hack Las Vegans were not. School segregation would eventually team with job discrimination and closed housing to trigger the blood/ riots in 1969- 70.3^
Following a strategy session at the NAACP national convention In Boston In July 1967, Las Vegas Chapter President Charles Kellar filed suit in federal district court in May 1968 to integrate Las Vegas-area schools. Kellar's move came in response to the implacable position of Clark County School District Trustees that six all-black elementary schools in the Westside were not segregated but merely “neighborhood schools," reflecting the residential segregation of Las Vegas. While Kellar recognized that school segregation resulted from the town’s lack of open housing, he was not content to wait for housing reform. Citing the epic Brown v. Topeka decision of 1954 which asserted that separate education instilled feelings of inferiority in black
students, Kellar insisted that, after fourteen years of footdragging, Clark County school officials integrate every classroom. To this end, he successfully argued before Federal District Court Judge Bruce Thompson of Reno that West Las Vegas' elementary schools were unconstitutionally segregated. In both this original decision and subsequent rulings, Thompson agreed with Kellar's view.^G
In the spring of 1969 two local groups entered the fray, proposing their own integration plans. An anti-busing organization, Parents Who Care, offered a scheme which Involved some voluntary busing, but not enough to threaten the status quo. On the other hand, the Las Vegas Valley League of Women Voters suggested a more radical formula which would have ended the all-black classes in West Las Vegas. For its part, the school district pledged to obey the judge’s ruling by implementing a voluntary integration plan for a trial run during the 1969-70 school year. The district offered to convert C.V.T. Gilbert Elementary School into a so-called "prestige school" by lowering teacher-student ratios and establishing a variety of remedial and advanced educational programs. During that year the district bused 300 white children to Gilbert, while 940 black elementary students were transported to white schools. All of the pupils who participated did so on a voluntary basis; those white grammar school students who refused to attend the integrated Gilbert School were allowed to remain in their neighborhood facility. In August 1970, Judge Thompson, though unhappy with the relatively small number of volunteers, nevertheless approved the program for a second year.
Thousands of white parents, however, continued to reject the busing option. His hand now strengthened by white resistance, Kellar once again assailed the district's plan, demanding instead the complete integration of Las Vegas-area schools through busing. In December 1970 Thompson concurred, ordering the district to implement a mandatory integration plan by September 1971. The court left the exact details to school officials, but mandated that no more than 50 percent of the pupils in any class be black. While hoping that the United States Supreme Court might yet water down the Brown decision in a series of upcoming cases, the school district
explcred a variety of busing options. In a series of open meetings, trustees solicited suggestions from the community at large. Proposals were myriad: lotteries, the creation of seventh grade centers, and kindergarten centers topped the list. After lengthy deliberations, trustees in April chose the so-called "Sixth grade centers" plan which would send all sixth grade students in the Las Vegas area to schools or "centers" in West Las Vegas. At the same time, every black youngster attending first through fifth grades in segregated Westside schools would be bused to white areas.37
Clearly, district officials embraced the plan with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Within weeks, the district’s legal counsel, Robert Petroni, appeared again before Judge Thompson arguing that court-ordered integration was valid only in those school districts (mostly in the southern United States) where segregation had been mandated by law. But Thompson disagreed. White parents then tried changing the judge's mind by forming a "Bus-Out” group, and staging a one-day boycott of classes in May 1971. Despite the absence of 17,000 white students from area schools, Thompson in a June 1971 ruling, reiterated his support for the NAACP's position that the sixth grade plan was the only effective solution to segregation. In a conciliatory move, he agreed to delay implementation until the Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco had time to rule on the school district’s appeal of his decision.
So, the full-scale integration of Las Vegas-area schools was again delayed but not for long. In November 1971,8 three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court heard Petronl’s appeal but voted unanimously to uphold Judge Thompson’s decision. Again, district trustees refused to give up, ordering Petroni to ask for a new hearing before all nine justices of the circuit court. In February 1972 this effort failed when all nine judges voted to reject the district’s petition. Still, the school board clung to hope that the Nixon Administration would act to weaken court-ordered busing. Their expectation rose in June 1972 when the President signed a law (endorsed by Nevada's congressional delegation) allowing school districts in the midst of appeals to delay court-ordered busing. A relieved board of trustees now planned to scuttle Thompson's
program and return to the old Gilbert "prestige school" plan. But in August, the Las Vegas Women's League of Voters petitioned Judge Thompson to hold the Trustees in contempt of court and once again order the Implementation of the “sixth grade center" plan. While not agreeing to hold the trustees in contempt, Thompson ordered immediate integration.38
■nn response, Bus-Out attorney, Tad Porter, appeared on September 1 before Las Vegas District Court Judge Carl Christensen, and asked for a preliminary injunction against busing. Christensen not only agreed, but delayed his ruling until September 5, the first day of school. This, in turn, forced new school superintendent Kenny Guinn to postpone all classes until the jurisdictional dispute had been resolved. In subsequent hearings both Thompson and Christensen stood their ground. As a result, the area's fifty-two elementary schools remained closed for nine days until Nevada Supreme Court Justice David Zenoff issued a stay against Christensen's injunction and set a hearing for October 9. In the interim, the state supreme court ordered the schools to open under Judge Thompson's plan.3^
In the meantime, members of Bus-Out and Parents for Neighborhood Schools collected 30,000 signatures throughout the Las Vegas metropolitan area supporting congressional action to outlaw busing. When Las Vegas elementary schools finally opened on September 18 (the town's high schools had always been integrated and therefore had opened on September 5), absenteeism was high. While some sixth grade centers, like Kermit Booker, counted over 70 percent of their projected enrollment, others, like Jo Mackey, saw a 90 percent abseentee rate. Bus-Out supporters, determined to thwart forced integration, created special "Bus-Out schools" for white sixth graders in secret locations around Las Vegas. Even though Bus-Out support waned by early October, school authorities nevertheless conceded that several hundred white sixth graders still were not attending regular classes.
This situation finally changed in November when district officials, determined to enforce Thompson's orders (which the state Supreme Court ultimately upheld), warned Bus-Out parents that their covert schools were unaccredited and that no child attending such classes would be
admitted to the district's seventh grade classes the following fall. This firm stand by the trustees and superintendent Kenny Guinn broke the back of the Bus-Out Movement. After four years of litigation and grim determination, the NAACP. with help from the League of Women Voters and other concerned whites, had won the battle to integrate Las Vegas schools.40
Sweet as it was, this victory comprised only part of the larger battle for civil rights which raged on several fronts simultaneously. Unlike the school fight, the campaign against job discrimination in Las Vegas was more than ten years old. As noted earlier, the 1965 state civil rights law had not ended job bias against blacks on the Strip or downtown, although continuous pressure from the NAACP coupled with adverse publicity generated by the schools and Westside riots of 1969-70 had sensitized hotel executives to the need for some reform. Moreover, the hotels had to A charges of job bias from an increasingly vigilant state Equal Rights Commission. In January 1970, the Nevada Resort Association (a group which represented most of the town’s large hotels) offered an eight-point plan to promote the hiring of blacks for non-menial jobs in the resorts. Provisions included closer policing of personnel hiring practices, enrollment of hotel supervisors in the University of Nevada's “Minority Employment" workshops, increased funding for black trainee programs, and an outright grant of $75,000 to the local NAACP chapter for the purpose of "stimulating motivation for the training within the minority community." While the effort was a positive step, the amount of black employment in higher paying hotel jobs continued to lag far behind black expectations.
Continued intransigence by the resort industry and its unions ultimately forced the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP to take the matter to federal court. The five-year battle to obtain a strong state civil right’s law and the six-year struggle to enforce it had convinced Charlie Kellar and other black leaders of the futility of pursuing job equality through state and local channels. Throughout 1970 Kellar made it increasingly clear that he considered job bias to be a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. At this point, the hotels and unions, anxious to avoid more adverse publicity for Las Vegas and fearful of losing in federal court, finally entered into
meaningful negotiations with black leaders. On June 4,1971, the NAACP filed its canplaint with now Judge Roger Foley of the U.S. Federal District Court in Las Vegas, detailing the familiar charges of bias practiced by various unions and hotels on the Strip and downtown. On the same day, the hotels and unions signed a consent decree pledging to end all discriminatory practices 41
The struggle for open housing was similarly difficult and drawn out. As late as 1970, over 22,000 of the 24,760 blacks in the Las Vegas SMSA lived in the Westside, Vegas Heights or in the other scattered enclaves within the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. The industrial city of Henderson counted 15,700 whites but oily 570 blacks, while Boulder City's population of 5,195 contained only two blacks. Residential segregation was particularly blatant in the opulent suburbs surrounding Las Vegas. To the east, Sunrise Manor hosted 10,554 whites in 1970 but only 125 blacks. Worse still, were the Strip suburbs of Paradise (23,887 whites and 174 blacks) and Winchester (13,755 and 46). In a resort city like Las Vegas, racial segregation not only dominated the hotels and casinos but also the suburbs spawned by the Strip economy itself. Aside from the central city ghettos, the only area in the valley where blacks were numerous was Nellis Air Force Base where 559 black airmen lived with 5,726 others.41
Black leaders were determined to alter the trend. Their campaign in Las Vegas began immediately in 1965 following the state legislature's deliberate omission of open housing provisions in the new civil rights act. Indeed, the law awarded white homeowners a "bill of rights," permitting them to sell to whomever they wished. In March 1967, Las Vegas and Reno-area NAACP leaders tried and failed to convince state legislators to pass an open housing law. A full-scale effort in 1969 was again thwarted. This time a division arose between black assemblyman Woodrow Wilson (D-Las Vegas) and his female colleagues Eileen Brookman (D-Las Vegas) and Mary Frazzini (R-Reno) who wanted to add the word “sex" to the race, religion or national origins" section of the fair housing bill. While conceding that single women faced discrimination from landlords, banks and mortgage companies, Wilson nevertheless opposed the change, insisting that "if we put sex in it, the bill will get shot down." Although
Wilson eventually won his point, the bill was still defeated. Despite the professed support of Governor Paul Laxalt, conservative lawmakers (inspired perhaps by the high-pressured lobbying of Howard Hughes) killed the bill.42
Victory finally came two years later in 1971, when under the threat of federal court action, the Nevada legislature approved legislation effectively ending residential segregation in Las Vegas and Reno. Under a strong open housing law, the black and hispanic population of Las Vegas slowly began to filter out of their traditional confines in the Westside and Vegas Heights. Thanks to open housing and fair employment practices, the rising incomes of many young blacks would, by the late 1970s and early 80s, allow them to live in the elegant townhouse and condominium communities springing up in Winchester and Paradise, as well as the fashionable single-family home developments stretching to the south ami far west of the Strip.43
It has been suggested by a number of observers that Las Vegas was the "Mississippi of the West." Despite the foregoing events, this conclusion seems a bit overdrawn. While Las Vegas was certainly no bastion of equality, it was no worse a town for blacks than Phoenix, Salt Lake and most medium-sized cities in California. Indeed, segregated housing, schools and job discrimination were common throughout the mid-twentieth-century west. So too was the rippling effect of the national civil rights movement.
In Las Vegas, as elsewhere in the region, the drive for equality helped change the political climate to benefit other minorities, especially women. Unlike the Reno-Tahoe areas, Las Vegas traditionally had few women dealers. Except for the wives of a few small club owners and a brief interlude during World War II, no women dealers worked regularly on the Strip or downtown until the 1970s. True, the Santa Anita and Monte Carlo Clubs hired a few women dealers in the 1950s, but other casinos did not follow their lead. Moreover, only one dealer’s school in town even allowed women to enroll.
The City of Las Vegas only encouraged the trend when commissioners passed a resolution on November 5, 1958 recommending that casinos not hire women dealers. A year later, the North
Las Vegas City Council went further, prohibiting the employment of female bartenders. These
measures effectively limited distaff mobility, relegating all female casino employees to the so-called "girls ghetto" of such lower-paying, low-prestige jobs as Keno runner, cocktail waitress and cashier. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 laid the foundation for eventually breaking the sex barrier within casinos. In August 1970, the Silver Slipper finally broke with tradition, promoting Jean Brad/, a slot machine cashier to blackjack dealer. A year later, veteran gamer Sam Boyd opened the Union Plaza Hotel (on the site of the old railroad station) and employed the first women dealers downtown. By the mid-1970s, many resorts relented under Affirmative Action pressure and in response to changing social mores. Despite the breakthrough, women, like blacks a few years earlier, continued to hold a minority of dealers jobs. As late as September 1978, women accountedfor only 25 percent of the 2,616 roulette, blackjack and baccarat dealers at the Strip's twelve major hotels. Furthermore, women held only fifteen of the 410 blackjack floor supervisor jobs on the Strip. During that same month, females accounted for only two percent of the 1,299 craps dealers jobs at Caesars Palace, the M6M Grand and other Strip resorts. Clearly, casino gambling not only shaped the economic development of the resort city but its discrimination patterns as well. Mirroring the values of postwar America and eager to please their customers, casino executives viewed the smoky, greenfelt world of gambling as the preserve of white males. Black customers were banned for a generation while black labor was relegated to culinary and custodial positions. White females, while encouraged to play at the tables, had little chance of becoming dealers or supervisors. The pattern finally changed in early 1981 when nineteen Strip hotels and four unions signed an out-of-court settlement with a women's group agreeing to end all sexual discrimination in hiring, training and promotion.44
The cities had acted even earlier. In June 1967, the North Las Vegas City Council, responding to the local drive for equal opportunity and the national movement for women's rights, voted to repeal its eight-year-old ban against women bartenders. Then in August 1970,
prodded by the militant "Committee to Abolish Discrimination Against Women Dealers" and threats from the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the City of Las Vegas lifted its twelve-year policy against women dealers in downtown casinos.^
The improved climate for minorities in the 1970s also benefited Asians and Hispanics.
While the latter numbered thousand people, their population jumped by more
than tenfold in the years after 1970. And, thanks to the black civil rights victories, both groups were able to live in integrated neighborhoods, send their children to integrated schools and secure a larger share of non-menial jobs in the resort industry. For all its tension and violence, the civil rights struggle made Las Vegas a more egalitarian, democratic place to live. By diversifying the resort industry racially, ethnically and sexually, this legal revolution actually strengthened the town's recreational economy by significantly enlarging the amount of customers and workers for the hotels.
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, Kaufman, 326; Roosevelt Fitzgerald, "Black Entertainers in Las Vegas, 1940-1960," (unpublished paper), 4. For general background, see Rita O'Brien, ed., "West Las Vegas at the Crossroads: A Forum," (1977)—transcript of a discussion; Elizabeth Patrick Nelson, ed., "The Black Experience in Southern Nevada," Nevada Historical Society Quarterly XXII (1979)- 128-140, 209-220; Ibid., The Black Experience in Southern Nevada (UNLV oral history transcripts, 1978) .
. Kaufman, 326, 333; Fitzgerald, 32, 7•
. Kaufman, 328; Age, November 18, 1931, 1? January 20, 1932, 2; June 18, 1932, 4.
. Age, August 18, 1932, n.p.; Review-Journal, March 31, 193^, 1; February 15, 1939, 1; Fitzgerald, 7-11.
. Kaufman, 355- In October 1943, over two hundred blacks walked off the job at BMI to protest the company's discriminatory policies, see Review-Journal, October 20, 19^3, 1 -
. Ibid., October 17, 1939, 2.
. For Carver Park, see Kaufman, 3^0-345 and Dobbs, 10, 17-20 for treatment of black workers at BMI.
. Fitzgerald, 5; Review-Journal, July 1, 19^3; the riot, see August 1, 1943, 1 and August 2, 19^3; City Commission, Minutes, V, December 22, 19^2, 47; February 4, 19^3, 62; March 4, 19^3, 67; February 10, 1944, 440; Review-Journal, November 1, 19^, 2. Al
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Cahlan defended the city's action in the black riot, see Ibid., January 13. 1944, 6.
Ibid., September 22, 1’9*14, 2; April 10, 1945, 7; Kaufman, 354; Review-Journal, July 3> 1947> 3- See also C.B. McClelland Co., Report of Las Vegas, Nevada, Housing Survey, December 1947 (Riverside, 1948).
Review-Journal, February 1, 1945, 1r Kaufman, 356.
Ibid., 360; Sun, August 2, 1950, 1-2; April 24, 1951, Il Review- Journal , October 21, 1957, 1-2; see also Las Vegas Housing Authority, Housing Survey of Selected Areas, Las Vegas, Nevada (1950).
Kaufman, 376-378; Sun, May 24, 1956, 20; Review-Journal, October 16, 1959. For some of the Westside's street improvements, consult City Commission, Minutes, X, February 1, 1956, 173-174; February 20, 1957, 412; May 7, 1958, 129. For "Project Madison," see Ibid., XI, October 15, 1958, 225; February 4, 1959, 295; October 15, 1959, 55M
Ibid., February 25, 1953, 3; Kaufman, 363-365? Review-Journal, February 5, 1954, 3•
Ibid., January 8, 1954, 1.
15- Fitzgerald, 37r Kaufman, 367-
Gary Elliott, "The Moulin Rouge Hotels A Critical Appraisal of a Las Vegas Legend," (unpublished paper), 5, Review-Journal, March 4, 1954, 1. Foxie's was the only Strip restaurant which regularly served blacks in the 1950s--Kaufman, 368, 374.
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Elliott, 6-10; Review-Journal, May 18, 1961, 1-2; May 19, 1961, 20.
For more on the city zoning needed to accommodate the hotel's construction, see City Commission, Minutes, IX, March 29, 1954, 36.
Kaufman, 379-382; Review-Journal, February 14, 1957, 1•
19» Ibid., March 17, I960, 1; March 25, i960, 1.
Kaufman, 391-394; Review-Journal, March 27, i960, 2.
Ibid., January 5, 1962, 1-2; January 6, 1963, 4.
Ibid., January 27, 1962, 6. A number of oral histories provide good coverage of various local civil rights activities in the late 1950s and 1960s» See, for instance, Elizabeth Patrick, ed., Oral Interview of Cora Williams (UNLV oral interview, 1978); Oral Interview of Reverend Prentiss Walker (UNLV oral interview, 1978); Oral Interview of Lubertha Johnson (UNLV oral interview, 1978).
23- Sun, February 24, 1962, 1.
24. Review-Journal, March 9, 1962, 2.
25- Ibid., March 21, 1962, 1; Sun, March 15, 1962, 14.
Review-Journal, March 19, 1965, 6; March 20, 1965, 11; July 1, 1965, 13-
Ibid., May 5, 1967, 13; May 17, 1967, 1; November 2, 1967, 29.
Ibid., August 1, 1967, 1; October 25, 1967, 1; November 23, 1967, 33-
Ibid., November 22, 1967, 2. Named in the complaint were the Fremont, Mint, Horseshoe Club, El Cortez, Sahara, Thunderbird, Riviera, Stardust, Frontier, Sands, Flamingo, Caesars Palace, Dunes, Bonanza, Aladdin, Hacienda, Las Vegas and California Clubs.
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Ibid., November 23, 19&7, 33-
Sun, January 28, 1969, Is February 1, 1969, Is February 5, 1969.
Ibid., October ?, 1969.1.^*
Ibid., November 26, 1969, Is December 9, 1969, If December 4, 1969, 9.
Review-Journal, February 17, 1970, 1; February 18, 1970, 1.
Sun, January 29, 1968, 3-
Review-Journal, July 13, 1967, 21s Lun, October 17, 1968, 1-4. For a description of the school district’s plan, see Clark County School District, "An Action Plan for Integration of Six Westside Elementary Schools...prepared by Superintendent James I. Mason," (1969)-
Review-Journal, May 12, 1972, 8.
Ibid., May 17, 1972, Is August 25, 1972, 2.
Ibid., September 6, 1972, 1.
Ibid., October 17, 1972, 11.
Ibid., January 22, 1970, 1. First, consult the federal complaint filed by the U.S. Justice Department in behalf of civil rights groups. The U.S. District Court, District of Nevada, "Civil LV No. 1645, Complaint." Then see "Civil Action LV No. 1645 Consent Decree." Copies of both documents are available from the court clerk's office at the Foley Federal Building in Las Vegas.
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Population Profiles, 11.
Sun, March 13, 1969, 1; June 18, 1965, 1; March 7, 1962, 2. Michael Drosnin has asserted that Howard Hughes played a backstage role in blocking the 1969 fair housing bills Drosnin, 188-189*
Local NAACP members referred to Nevada and even Las Vegas as the "Mississippi of the West," as has Perry Kaufmans see Review- Journal , April 14, 1954, 1. The notion that other southwestern cities were also hostile to minorities is briefly covered in Michael Konig, "Toward Metropolitan Statuss Charter Government and the Rise of Phoenix, Arizona, 1945-1960," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertations Arizona State University, 1983), 187-188; Robert T. Wood, "The Transformation of Albuquerque, 1945-1972," (unpublished Ph.D. dissertations University of New Mexico, 1980), 335-336. Also consult Review-Journal, June 6, 1967, 1; November 1, 1970, 2.
For the debate surrounding Las Vegas’ decision to ban women dealers, see City Commission, Minutes, I November 5, 1958, 233-235 - Male dealers had complained that casinos could hire women for $15 per day while male wages were $25. Roske, 122; Review-Journal, March 19, 1981, 170. The complaint was filed on January 13, 1981 and is entitleds "U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Nevada Resort Association et. al.Case No. CV-LV-81-12 RDF." The consent decree was filed on January 26,
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1981. It was in effect until August 13, 1986 when it was rescinded after both parties agreed that the resorts and unions had reformed their hiring, promotion and pay practices to the point where complaints
were no longer valid.