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As the initial component of the collaborative project Documenting the African-American Experience in Las Vegas, four roundtable discussions were filmed by Vegas PBS. The design and production of this inaugural project introduces the history of the Las Vegas black community from 1905 to the 1980s. The first session, which included panelists Hannah Brown, Brenda Williams, Jackie Brantley, David Washington, and Lucille Bryant was moderated by local author Trish Geran and discussed migration, early employment, and various aspects of the emergence of the Westside community.
The second forum, hosted by UNLV Professor Sonya Horsford introduced the topics of education, spirituality, the Economic Opportunity Board, and early community clubs and organizations as major influences in black advancement. Panelists Linda Young, Verlia Davis, Esther Langston, and Ida Gaines discussed black churches, The Westside School, the formation of early clubs such as La Femme Douze, and the court mandated desegregation of the Clark County schools through the Six Grade Center model.
In the third roundtable Lonnie Wright, B.J. Thomas, LaVerne C. Ligon, and Leonard Polk, Jr. discussed Las Vegas entertainment and civil rights from an atypical point of view with UNLV Oral History Research Center Director Claytee D. White. Wright attended high school during the 1969 riots while Ligon performed in the first black line of dancers that appeared as a separate segment in a show on the Strip. Thomas and Polk worked backstage as two of the first blacks in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union.
The final discussion showcased the early legal community and included Justice Michael Douglas, Judge Karen Bennett-Haron, Judge Tim Williams, Attorney Booker Evans, and Attorney John Bailey. Led by UNLV Law Professor Rachel Anderson, the group discussed early African American members of the Nevada Bar, the importance of the Las Vegas National Bar Association, and the black legal community’s influence in the civil rights movement.
These four roundtable discussions by members of the African American community traced Las Vegas black history from early railroad workers to the beginning of the NAACP in the 1920s, to the World War II migration from small towns in the South, to 1950s black entertainers who could not live in hotels where they performed, to the Welfare Rights Movement of the early 1970s, and finally to an active legal community that was instrumental in the passing of the landmark 1971 Consent Decree that mandated that 12.5% of all jobs were to be held by blacks at all levels in seventeen Strip Hotel Casinos and their associated labor unions. The video of these discussions can be viewed at YouTube.