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Voices: an exploration of Black Las Vegas through the resources in UNLV Special Collections and Archives: Community Voices

Guide for "Voices" a 2021 Special Collections and Archives exhibit

Ida Gaines oral history interview (OH-02847)

“Nora Wilson...she was the wife of Woodrow Wilson, really. And she was like a background person, really, she was really just out there supporting her husband and other people, because you got all the history about Woodrow Wilson. He was the first black elected official (Nevada State Assemblyman), so she was like a support system for him. I mean, she was a member of Gamma Phi Delta Sorority Alpha Rho Chapter...When I came to town and was young, I thought that it was really prestigious, and people were dying to get in. Well, that was the elitist African American womens’ organization in this town at that time. It was like culturally, educationally, and socially, where these people like Lubertha Johnson, Edith Abington, and Mabel Hoggard who were members. They were like mentors, people that you would want to be like, you know, in the community, and they were all part of that organization and doing things educationally, civically, and culturally.”

Ruth D'Hondt oral history interview (OH-00446)

“It was excellent [working at Caesars as part of a union]. And I’ll tell you why it was excellent. You were furnished uniforms. You were furnished somebody to take care of the uniforms. You were furnished hairpieces, somebody to take care of the hairpieces. And there was a standard headdress. Everybody had to have the same standard. And, of course, I liked the idea of getting money every day. But then it was union organized labor and I realized the value of being a union member.”

"Once you became union it was different. ... Without organized labor, unions, poor working class people would be in trouble. That made a difference. That gave me a security I had never had on a job; that I had never had on a job. Then I knew that if I’d do what I was taught, do my work, mind my business, I should be able to take care of my daughter, right? And I did. That made all the difference. But if you have no representation as a worker, you will be crushed. Fairness, wealth, and power do not trickle down.”

D. D. Cotton oral history interview (OH-00278)

[One of the first Black Las Vegas Strip cocktail waitresses at Caesars Palace in 1966]  “They’d give you a quarter, some people wouldn’t give you anything. Then you’d get to be called “black bitch,” or you’d be called “n*&@er.” You know you’re sitting there and you know you want to cry but you know that you’re doing it for a cause. Because if you do this then there are going to be more after you. There’s always got to be a first.”

“First, I was just working the slot area and something happened where I got to work the ‘pit,’ where they had the ‘21’ games and craps. They were saying, ‘Well, she doesn’t deserve that and why does she get to do this?’ I remember a floor man or a pit boss coming to my aid and saying, ‘She deserves it just like you do.’ He came to my defense. He said, ‘She deserves it just like you. She can do the work. Let her do the work. It’s her turn.’ His name was Phil. I can’t remember his last name, but his name was Phil. There are certain people in this town that I remember like that. They don’t have that malice in their heart because you’re black. If you can do the job, do the job.”

Julia Payne oral history interview (OH-01448)

“In 1980, I started working for the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. That is the agency that funds treatment programs throughout the state. It’s also the agency that oversees the standards for certified drug counselors. I was the area supervisor overseeing all the programs that we had here in Las Vegas. After my retirement, Governor Bob Miller called and offered me the position of Drug Czar for the State of Nevada.”

Eleanor Walker oral history interview (OH-01898)

“As president of the NAACP, my administration (1971-1975) accomplished a lot - sidewalks, street lights, and well-placed, clear addresses on each house... At one point they were going to cut off the buses to the Westside completely because they said they were losing money. The NAACP National office sent an expert on transportation who held community meetings and made up a better route that saved money for the bus company.”

Eva Simmons oral history interview (OH-01700)

“The Prestige Schools label was given to Jo Mackey and CVT Gilbert Elementary Schools. The white students who attended, attended because their parents saw value in them having a diverse learning environment. That really struck me. One of the students in my second grade class was the son of the hospital administrator for Sunrise Hospital. The hospital administrator and his wife came in for a meeting. As I went through the child’s grades and entire portfolio, the father said to me, ‘I’m not interested in that, I know he can read, write, and figure. I want to know if he is building relationships with people?’ Isn’t that amazing?”

Debbie Conway oral history interview (OH-00263)

“Because I am a licensed missionary evangelist and as you know, a missionary is someone who goes out into the community and tries to work with people to upgrade their lifestyle and do whatever they can to help. It was that component of me that got me involved in a project to help children called Summer Business Institute (SBI). Young people were able to get jobs during the summer months. We started with eight children. I went to eight businesses and asked them to hire and mentor these students. After that pilot, those businesses petitioned the Board of County Commissioners to keep the project alive.”

Greg McCurdy oral history interview (OH-01245)

“We help [the Westside] by restoring the people’s confidence in our ability to keep it safe, working with the community, not come in as Gestapos or coming in as military. We’re supposed to come in and work in collaboration with other organizations, with our faith-based community and with the community organization groups. I think we have done a better job. I do think that having a police station there has been a great benefit to help us with that.”

“Do we expect that every police officer is going to be perfect? No, we do not, because when you look at it we hire people out of neighborhoods throughout the country. They bring their baggage. The majority of the men and women who wear a badge and gun really care about sense of community.” 

Q. B. Bush oral history interview (OH-00308)

“I started a dealer’s school and a dealer’s union in 1961 - all Black dealers. I got all the dealers on the Westside together and started the union because the Westside gambling joints were paying twenty dollars a day, not enough. So we picketed them and made them pay more.”

Dr. Charles West oral history interview (OH-01954)

[On the role of tourism in keeping Las Vegas a Jim Crow town until 1959, 1960] “Some of the high rollers from the south would frown upon seeing Blacks being admitted into the hotel-casino. As a matter we had that very thing expressed to us by some of the people on the Strip by why they couldn’t let down the racial barriers in public accommodations.”

Trish Geran oral history interview (OH-01990)

“If you miss an opportunity and the world becomes a worse place, you’re part of that. But if it becomes a little better or even if it becomes worse, at least you tried.”

J. David Hoggard oral history interviews (OH-00872)

[talking about activist Charles Kellar] “He [Kellar] was very active in the NAACP during that time. He was never president of NAACP. He was very active, and became the lightning rod for our programs because of his activities, and his knowledge, experience and commitment. When the civil rights bill was passed, he was the one really behind that and working at the state level.”

“I certainly think my years as an officer and member of the Las Vegas branch of NAACP were some of the most satisfying days as a person in the community, in trying to make a difference with limited resources … We had a really dynamic branch that was the basis for eliminating segregation, in 1960, in public accommodations here in Las Vegas.”

“It was during the time [1960s] that we [the NAACP] were making our first efforts to get a civil rights bill in Las Vegas. I would have to go back because I succeeded Woodrow Wilson (as NAACP president), and he succeeded Lubertha Johnson. That whole decade practically we were all friends and we all worked together. A lot of that went on from one administration to the other. We did a number of things and were trying to make living a little more agreeable for Black people in the community.”

Viola Johnson oral history interview (OH-00961)

“And, when we first came out here, it was so hot. I’m telling you it was so hot. They said it never rain here. One day it came up a rain and then this tent, we got up under the table, we that was in the house, that was the only dry spot in the house, under the table. Sand, sand, sand, blow, oh the sand would blow everywhere.”

Roosevelt Toston oral history interview (OH-01365)

“Oh, well, I think my legacy as far as broadcasting is probably….I think the fact that I was the first and that—I think what I’m hearing from people is that I represented the race, if you will, well. I didn’t embarrass myself….So that’s the thing I would hope people would remember is that I did the best I could. I cared about the community. I tried to do positive news stories whenever I was given that opportunity to show the positive side of what’s going on in the community.” -

Nafeesa Sallee oral history interview (OH-01621)

“I please my customers, and because we are located on the Westside the area that never had a bank until we came, we had to set the example as far as excellent customer service is concern. Like I expressed earlier, I think on the Westside we go a little further with that extra step. That always been like that because sometimes our customers in this area need that extra help, understanding to do what right for the customer, not giving them something they don’t need. I’ve always stood by that.”

“I had taught my kids it doesn’t make any difference what you are or where you came from you treat people how you want to be treated with respect. They had Hispanic friends, Black friends, white friends, kids who were from the islands (Hawaii, Jamaica, Trinidad). It didn’t matter.”

Shirley Edmond oral history interview (OH-00519)

[On the opening of the Moulin Rouge] “It was quite an exciting time because everybody felt like they could go for the entertainment and they could go and gamble and they could do what was offered across town.”

Audrey James oral history interview (OH-00933)

“Now, I did music with my kids, piano. Then when we had the Christmas program I had my kids do a performance... But that came out really well, too. I had four of them [students] playing instruments. Then I moved over to the piano and accompanied the group that was singing. They played, I played, and they sang. Oh, it was really good. It turned out really well. Every teacher in that school was there that night. They came to see me fail. Jealousy was the only negative element in that environment. Well, at the time I was the only one there that had a master’s degree. And so they learned of that master degree program and then, oh, boy, they went to the university in a hurry and began working on theirs.”

Theron and Naomi Goynes oral history interview (OH-00708)

“We were standing in one home development office and saw a couple of houses that we were quite interested in and was talking to a salesman. The sales manager was with a white couple close by and as we overheard him assure that couple that he would not be selling to Blacks, ‘We’re not selling to them.’ And then your principal, a white man, went with us to that office. Your principal went in first and we entered behind him. An office worker told the principal, ‘Don’t worry, we’re not selling to them.’ He responded, ‘Why not? He’s one of my employees and he needs a house.’ But they still would not sell a house to us.”

Rachel Coleman oral history interview (OH-00234)

“When I finally got tired of being a housekeeper, I told Sarah Hughes, my union representative, that I was ready to become a union rep. I marched into Al Bramlet’s office and said, without any introductory conversation, that I want to be a union rep. He said I don’t think so and I replied, Okay, I’ll see you soon. So in the next two days, Hughes called and stated that Al said, ‘you’ve got guts; he’s going to hire you.’”

Roosevelt Toston oral history interview (OH-01839)

“Fred did not see in me what John Howell apparently saw. So this is when I thought I had it together and people were telling me in the community, ‘Man, we see the change.’ And I could see the pride in the community of having a Black reporter. A lot of times they wouldn’t know my name, but when they just saw me in a grocery store or at the bank or somewhere, they would say, ‘There’s the black reporter.’ It was a sense of pride there.”

Hazel Geran oral history interview (OH-00675)

“When I arrived in 1948, -Theron and Naomi Goynes there were no paved streets, no sidewalks, just gravel streets. There were two blacktop streets, F and D. The reason for those being paved was that’s where they had started the buses here in the Westside. The downtown city bus would go down D and come back down F.”

Helen Anderson Toland oral history interview (OH-01833)

“The 1971 consent decree worked because Blacks were exposed to a greater variety of jobs. For instance, we knew one girl, Antonita Logan who went to Langston University for one year. She couldn’t go to college any longer because of the illness of her mother but she went to work in a hotel in the section that registered hotel guests and very quickly she was made head of that section and that’s because of her year at college at Langston. That’s what it did for her.”

Eugene Williams oral history interview (OH-02427)

“Las Vegas meant everything to the Platters. Any time we’d go anywhere -- Miami Beach, New York, Chicago, those big hotels -- they’d say ‘direct from Las Vegas, Nevada!’ And that’s all they needed to say. Then the audience knew they had somebody. The influence of Las Vegas in the entertainment world is second to none.”

“My proudest performance was in South Africa in 1978... As long as you were a performer, you’re all right. We were proud to turn down a concert that they weren’t going to allow to be multiracial. We were the first group to do that.”

Ruby Amie-Pilot oral history interview (OH-02430)

[Black couples went to the Strip on March 26, 1960, the evening that the integration of public accommodations was mandated in Las Vegas] “So my husband and I were assigned to go to the Desert Inn. We dressed in our best and made reservations for the Lido de Paris show. When we walked in, the first thing we were to do was to stop to gamble. My husband gave me a hundred dollars of our hard-earned money and he took a hundred. I went to the 21 table and he went to the dice table. I put my money down to get change so I could play. The dealer saw me when I walked up but dealt over me, never picked up that hundred dollar bill. My husband received the same treatment. In the showroom, we were seated in the back and at that point asked for Major Riddle, hotel operator, per NAACP instructions. The usher returned and almost sat us on the stage! We were given an apology and told that we could gamble wherever we chose to. I gambled twenty dollars and lost but my husband did quite well at the craps table.”

Stella Parson oral history interview (OH-01437)

“ When we first came here, there were no Black teachers, no Black professionals in anything. Since then, there has been a major change. We have Blacks in everything now...Nobody was really pushing Blacks to go to college...but there was a white lady that I worked for, babysitting for her children, that was instrumental in getting one of the of the social clubs that she belonged to to offer me a scholarship.”

Vicki Richardson oral history interview (OH-01566)

“When I first came to Las Vegas, I met Benny Cassel, one of the true pioneers in art. Benny’s vision was realized as an art gallery, cultural center, and bookstore. He had property on Martin Luther King, a large house with a little house in the back, and there was an art gallery portion. He taught all kinds of classes. His wife, Corrine Cassel was the first woman to get a PhD at UNLV. I was led to him and within a few months, I was exhibiting at UNLV and at Benny’s gallery. He and his wife were in the process of moving to Africa and asked me to take over the gallery. I said yes.”

Jerry Eppenger oral history interview (OH-00542)

“Louisiana Club, Town Tavern, Cotton Club. They opened El Morocco. They opened the Cove. And there was a Jackson Motel even that was there. But the Cove was called the Carver House first though... But Jackson was lively. It was the happenings. It was the place to be because all the Blacks went to Jackson and all the whites that used to come to the Westside went to Jackson, through these clubs. They had gambling. They had dancing. Always had entertainment, so it was always real lively.”

Samuel Wright oral history interview (OH-02031)

“We needed a major road that would carry people from the east to the west. Kent, a transportation planner and my partner at the Nevada Department of Transportation suggested that we look at our models and do something with Desert Inn Road (DI). We need to just widen DI and make it a major road, no, let’s make it a super arterial. So then we set the model up to widen DI and tested that model. So we widened DI and reran the model. All that traffic that was trying to go down Tropicana and Flamingo, went down DI. Bingo. We built the DI super arterial! It was finally opened in the early 1990s but the original plan for it was in the mid 1980s.”

“Across the street (Sahara) over there was a restaurant called Foxy’s. That was the first restaurant in Vegas that Blacks could go to. They could go to Foxy’s. A Jewish delicatessen, open to everybody, all people. But Black people were not allowed on the Strip; but the Strip was considered across Sahara. Now, the guy that owned Foxy’s, he was so cool. He had only Blacks working -- cooks, waitresses. Blacks could get a job there with with no problem at all. Jimmy Gay had a good hook-up with him because he would get you started from there. And you could take from there and get job experience, then go wherever you wanted to go. But Foxy’s was a place to go to eat. If you’re anywhere in town, across town, Foxy’s you could go in there and sit and eat.”

Lucille Bryant oral history interview (OH-00136)

“I think it was only about seven or eight rooms a day to clean and the housekeeper said it paid $8 per day. What?! $8 per day!? Lord, I was so grateful, I was so thankful, $8 a day, yes, I’ll take the job!...When the housekeeper left the room and I was alone, I got on my knees right there in the Algiers Motel and I gave God thanks; $8 a day and working in the shade.” [Bryant only earned $5 per week working the fields in Tallulah, Louisiana]

Hannah Brown oral history interview (OH-00131)

[As a teen, worked at Larry’s Sight and Sound Record Shop on the Westside] “So I came in and walked up to him [Muhammad Ali] and spoke, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ Of course I was freaking out because he had all these people in the shop and absolutely no control. He was holding court as only he could but bought a lot of merchandise before he left. He would come by the store two and three times a week while in-training here.”

Porter Troutman oral history interview (OH-01847)

“In terms of school desegregation, I was involved in an exchange program initially; prior to the sixth grade center program being implemented. I was paired with a teacher across town as a kind of experiment. I would take my class over to his school for two or three days and then he would bring his class over to my school for two or three days. Then the Sixth Grade Center Plan was adopted after reviewing over “600” different plans.”

Sarann Knight Preddy oral history interview (OH-01508)

“When I returned to Hawthorne, he practically gave me the place. I remember that I had to have six hundred dollars to get into the place and I came back to Las Vegas and got six hundred dollars from my father. And that’s how I got ownership of that club and stayed there for seven years... The six hundred dollars got the license and got the club situated. It was 1950, a long time ago. It was a full gaming license with keno, “21,” a craps table, a poker table, and we had slot machines.” [First Black woman to obtain a gambling license in Nevada]

Rev. Claude Parson oral history interview (OH-01437)

“Home financing was almost nil for Blacks as far as banks loaning money to build houses. Most people just sort of build them from what they could buy and they just took their time. Might take them three or four years to build a home, but they, from paycheck to paycheck, built little by little. There was almost no financing at all in West Las Vegas until around 1955.”

Lonnie Wright oral history interview (OH-02029)

“The Welfare Rights Movement was smart enough to recruit for the march-on-the-Strip on UNLV’s campus. And being a sponge like young college students are, white and Black, we went to the march. And because of my size, they put me around Dr. Rev. Ralph Abernathy. At a certain point of the march, a limousine drives up and Jane Fonda gets out and gets right in front of us. That’s how that photo got taken. I’m right behind Jane Fonda.”

Katherine Joseph oral history interview (OH-00979)

“Jackson Street had the Cotton Club, El Morocco, Louisiana Club, Chickadee, El Rio, and three or four more. And we went from club to club dressed with hundred-dollar shoes, furs, and jewels... Entertainers would come over about two o’clock and they would perform. I remember Sammy Davis and others saying you’re getting a million dollars worth of entertainment free. We would be there with them until 12 o’clock the next day, go home, take a shower, and get ready to go to work.”

Faye Daniel oral history interview (OH-00326)

“Because to deny me an opportunity because of my skin tone, denies my human potential. I wouldn’t tolerate that.”

“It was just a sisterhood. [Faye Todd and I] were just bonded by our energies, to tell you the truth. We just knew we needed to have better jobs and better-paying jobs. We were just bold and were just like that. We were just as good and skilled as anybody and there was no reason for us not to have that kind of a job…. And we went in and boldly got those jobs. It amazes me how we did it and what we did with no resources, and no connections.”

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