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Audio clip of Marzette Lewis

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Part of an interview with Marzette Lewis by Claytee White on October 30, 2012. Lewis discusses community involvement in the movement for equality in elementary schools to stop bussing children to schools in different neighborhoods.

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Marzette Lewis oral history interview, 2012 October 30 and 2012 November 14. OH-01113. [Audio recording] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las


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Tell me about WAAK-UP; how you got it started, what some of your campaigns were? Well, when we first went out—the first day when I called a press conference for Brian Cram to come over to Booker, instead of Brian Cram showing up at Booker, there was myself, my husband, my son, his wife—I think there was five of us. No. It was four. My son, his wife and myself and my husband and the news media, we met at Booker, on the south side of Booker where the little kids' classrooms were. I had told Brian Cram that I wanted to meet him there, him to meet us there. Instead of him showing up—they wrote it in the paper; I got the paper somewhere in some of those boxes—instead of him showing up, they said Brian Cram sent the police and Ray Willis. So Ray Willis is the spokesperson now. And when we did the interview—and I talked about the school district so bad and what had happened—that's when this little paper where it say those demands that I went to the school district. Yes. The next week when the school board had the board meeting that's when I went out there with 88 eighteen black women and sat there. Yvonne Atkinson Gates was on the board. We sat there all—oh, my god, they filibustered for at least three hours after they had got through with the board meeting. They were through; they was just talking about anything. We're still sitting there. We're being patient because I didn't know how the board operated and all this stuff, right? So finally, Lois Tarkanian—I do believe it was Lois Tarkanian because she was the president of the board at that time—she looked over there at us. All the employees had gone on home. Nobody sitting in there but eighteen big black women and my son with a video camera videoing. Lois said, “Did you folks want something? Did you come out here for something?” She said, “We didn't see you.” And I jumped up when she said she didn't see us. I said, “What in the hell do you mean you didn't see us? Eighteen big black women sitting here all night long and you didn't see us and it's midnight?” I just went crazy. I started screaming. I started hollering. And I haven't stopped hollering since. I've been screaming and hollering ever since because when that woman looked at us and said that they had not seen us—and when I went to that podium and told them why we was out there and what had happened to my son on that school bus, I said, “We're not taking it no more and you're going to get them off of those buses. You're going to close these sixth grade centers down and you're going to bring our children home.” I said, “These are our schools and we want them back.” And that's the way we got it started. And I put demands on them. I started reading them off, one by one, what we wanted. Then we called that big church meeting at Grace Immanuel and we had standing room only. They was all outside, everywhere. I invited the mayors, the city councilmen, the county commissioners. We was grassroots; we didn't know what we were doing. I was just grasping for straws. I knew I had to do something. We had to get those kids 89 off of those buses and back in the neighborhood. We had all those people in there that I had sent letters out to and they came. I guess they wondered who is this woman? Where did she come from? Nobody knew me because I had been gone and I never was a street person. Never did go to bars or clubs or nothing. Didn't drink and didn't hang in the streets and stuff like that. So really didn't nobody know me but the neighborhood folks. And when I got to where we had the meeting, we had Brian Cram to come up; he was on the stage. James Seastrand, who is the mayor of North Las Vegas, he was there. He came up. I said, “All of you folks that was invited by letters, please come up,” I said, “because we've got to talk tonight.” And Chester Richardson, I don't know whether you remember him, but Chester Richardson was a preacher around here. He died a few years ago while I was in Mississippi. But he said when he walked in the church house that night and he looked up, he said, “I saw this tall, beautiful, gorgeous woman, and I heard coming out of her mouth like a lion, and she says, 'I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.'“ He said, “I'll never forget when I saw you, Marzette.” He said, “You were standing there in that red dress. And when you said you was sick and tired of being sick and tired and you were going to bring our kids home,” he said, “Whew, somebody done woke up here in Las Vegas.” We had Wendell P. Williams. So Wendell said, “Marzette, if you try what you're trying, what you're getting ready to do, what you're threatening these folks with, and if it doesn't work, what you going to do?” I say, “Hell, I can't get no further in the sand than I already am.” I say, “So what they going to do to us, shoot us? All they can do is say, well, we can't do it or whatever.” I said, “But I guarantee you, Wendell, this is going to work. When I get through wearing them down, this is 90 going to work because I know how to work on somebody's nerves.” [Whispering]: You can ask them in there how I know. [Regular voice]: I know how to work on some nerves. I was so mad that night. And Angie Rodriguez had sent another girl to do the filming for Channel 13. I think it was Channel 13 because they was the one really broke the story. This little girl came up to me after the meeting, because all these folks was in there and the media was there and they had gone on. We stayed in there about three hours and we was fighting backwards and forwards. Senator Neal, he was in there. And he said thirty years is too long they've been on these buses. We've got to do this something. This community has spoken and they've spoken loud. And we've got to listen. So when the meeting was over and we were packing up, getting ready to leave, this little girl came up to me and said, “Ma'am, can I have that paper, what you have?” I said, “Well, can I get it back?” She said, “Yes, ma'am. I just want to take it to the station.” And she took it to the station and Angie Rodriguez got a hold to it and Angie Rodriguez went to work on that story. She followed us all the way through with WAAK-UP; even when I think we had incorporated WAAK-UP, she was there, when we called the boycott school, because they had said they had done everything for me that I had asked and I still filed a due process on them about John because they had him all the way out there in Kirk Adams [Elementary School]. So the fifth day or the sixth day that he went to get on that bus when I run him out the door to put him on the bus, he just fell back up in my arms. He didn't want to get on that bus. Now they had this little handicap bus, right? Had special ed out there. He didn't want to get on that bus. And I said, “John, what's the matter? You've been wanting to go to school.” I said, 91 “How come you don't want to go to school anymore?” “No, Momma, no. No, Momma, no.” Sure enough, I got up on the bus and I looked and I saw why he didn't want to be on the bus. They had twelve—I counted them—it was twelve Hispanic kids on there. They couldn't speak English and he couldn't speak Spanish. So he didn't know what they were saying and he was scared to death of those Hispanic kids. Now, I have to tell the truth, the way it is, because this is a little six-year-old child going to first grade. He was scared to death. Plus he had issues. He had all these mental, emotional issues and on medication and stuff. So I said, well, I'm not going to put him back on this bus, huh-uh. So I took him off the bus. I went and called Brian Cram. I said, “Put Brian Cram on the phone.” I said, “Cram, you've got to do something because John can't go back out to Kirk Adams.” He said, “Marzette, what's wrong at the Kirk Adams?” I said, “I don't know; but that bus is nothing but Hispanic kids on there and John won't get on it.” And I said, “I'm not going to take John to school every day when the school district is getting my taxpayer's money and y'all bussing them.” And I said, “I done told you we want these kids at home.” So now Brian Cram got to go find me another school. So now he finds Eisenberg [Elementary School], which is way up here somewhere, past Summerlin I guess. But it was in the northwest. These two little schools are twin schools. So I went up there and I got all three of them. They had special ed. And two of these kids were special ed kids; one of them wasn't. But they got all three of them. I said, “I want them all to go to the same school.”