Sunday, August 11, 2013

The mystique of desegregation in Las Vegas

The mystique of desegregation in Las Vegas

By Sakura Honda
The Daily Magi
November 22, 2050


Much like other American settled counties and towns throughout the United States, entertainment venues were segregated between black and white owned businesses. With almost all of the businesses owned and operated by whites, Black Americans were segregated from entry into the venues which remained focused, regardless of their legitimacy or criminality, on entertaining a white only clientele. As a result of property deeds, non-white owned or customer oriented businesses were confined to clubs on the "west side" of the tracks. This also was enforced in many of the work positions thus, African Americans except those who provided the labor for low-paying menial positions or entertainment and Hispanics were limited in employment occupations at the white owned clubs. However, because of employment deals with black worker groups, many clubs favored black workers and the Hispanic population actually decreased ninety-percent from 2,275 to just 236 by the middle 1950s.

However, organized crime-owned groups saw a business opportunity in not dividing their clientele by race and despite property deeds and city and county codes disbarring such activities, made several attempts at de-segregating their businesses in the hopes putting out of operation the non-white owned clubs and expanding their own market share. An attempt at forming an all-integrated night-club modeled on the Harlem Clubs of New York City during the 1920s and 1930s like those owned by German-Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz was made. On May 24, 1955, Jewish crime boss Wil Max Schwartz, along with other investors, opened the Moulin Rouge. It was a very upscale and racially integrated casino that actually competed against the resorts on the Strip especially the non-white owned strips on the west side. However, by the end of the year, the casino closed as Schwartz and his partners had a falling out. But the seeds for racial integration were sown.

Many sources have credited Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack as a significant driving force behind desegregation in the casinos. One famous story tells of Sinatra's refusal to perform at the Sands Hotel unless the hotel provided Sammy Davis Jr. with a room. The famed performing group made similar demands at other venues forcing owners to amend their policies over time.

However, it took political action most often supported by Jewish crime groups for racial desegregation to occur. In 1960, the NAACP threatened a protest of the city's casinos for their policies. A meeting between the NAACP, the mayor and local businessmen resulted in city wide casino desegregation first starting with the employees and many whites were attritioned from positions and their jobs given to the black unions. Along with the rest of the country, Las Vegas experienced the struggle for civil rights. Activists like James B. McMillan, Grant Sawyer, Bob Bailey, and Charles Keller dragged Las Vegas to racial integration.

Aside from seeing no business advantage to excluding non-white customers from casinos and clubs, the organized crime groups themselves were composed of people of ethnicities (Jewish and Italian) that faced discrimination from WASP America and thus could understand the plight of blacks. This was also a driving force behind the integration advocated by ethnic performers such as Sinatra and Martin.

Another big force for equality was another criminally connected Jewish activist Mayor Oran Gragson. Spurred into local politics by a vigilante ring of cops who repeatedly broke into his appliance store, he implemented infrastructure improvements for the minority neighborhoods in Las Vegas, backed the NAACP in its actions, and promoted black workers for jobs. He also championed the cause of the Pauite tribe that owned a small portion of Las Vegas and stopped the U.S. government from evicting the tribe and actually made infrastructure improvements for them. His work helped reverse the decrease of minority populations in Las Vegas. Local legislation kept up with the national legislation and integration was finally established. The only real violence came as a result of school integration, with violent riots and fights occurring in Clark High School when black gangs and youths began attacking the whites and sparking white flight from the school district from 1965 to 1971.

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