Thoughts on today


On this historic day, power changes hands as Barack Obama takes the oath of office and becomes the 44th president of the United States.

The first African-American president.  I thought I would be very, very old before I would witness that event.  Instead, I am barely in to my second year of being mid-century modern and am living that moment.

As I watched him give his speech this morning I was moved to tears by John Lewis standing up and applauding at a pivotal moment.  I thought of all those who had risked their lives during the Civil Rights era to make this moment possible, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Diane Nash, James Farmer and all the children and teenagers who marched, who faced down Bull Connor's cops and fire hoses, those who were chosen to integrate Central High and walked through a torrent of racial epithets and bigoted remarks as they tried to enter the school.  remembered those who had died to make this moment possible.  Medgar Evans, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, Emmett Till, the four girls in the Birmingham church and especially Martin Luther King, Jr.

And then, I thought of the men and women I have met because of our Archive Project.  Rev. Marion Bennett who came to Las Vegas  and was surprised to find that Las Vegas held fewer opportunities for people of color than the Deep South where he was from.

Of Lucille Bryant who came from Tallulah, Louisiana where she picked cotton from sun-up to sun-down.  The most she could earn for a day of back-breaking work was $2.  She came to Las Vegas to visit relatives and went with her cousin to the old Algiers Motel.  Her cousin was applying for a job as a maid.  As the woman in charge explained the duties, Lucille listened intently.  Her cousin decided not to take the job but Lucille wanted it.  Why?  Because for cleaning eight rooms a day, the pay was $8.  As Lucille said, "Eight dollars a day for working in the shade."  Once she had been working steady she wrote home and told her family "Come on out, they're giving money away."

Of Sarann Knight-Preddy who came to Las Vegas in 1942.  Like the others she lived on the Westside.  There the housing was basically tar shacks and tents.  Running water was a luxury.  Sarann went to work in one of the small clubs, The Cotton Club.  She ultimately became the first black to be hired as a dealer.

Of Ruby Duncan, who also came from Tallulah.  She and her group, the Nevada Welfare Rights Organization in 1971, the group, joined by Rev, Ralph Albernathy, Jane Fonda and George Wiley, president of the Nation Welfare Rights Organization (1966–1975), marched on the Las Vegas Strip shutting down casino operations including Caesars Palace. The initial movement morphed into Operation Life (1972–1992), a non-profit, anti-poverty organization that created the first library in the black Westside community in Las Vegas, organized a medical clinic for children, formed a jobs program, established a drug and violence prevention program, and provided many other needed services.

Of Alice Key who came to Las Vegas in the early 1950s and with Bob Bailey had the first television program hosted by an African-American.  It may have been the first one in the country.

I also remembered those who worked so hard in the Civil Rights movement in Las Vegas who did not live to see this historic moment.  Dr. Charlie West who was the first black physican in the city.  He worked at the old Southern Nevada Hospital, sat on its board but could not own a house in the city.  He was forced to live on the Westside.

Of James McMillan the first black dentist in Las Vegas.  He had known Dr. West in Detroit.  McMillan was serving in the Korean War when he received a telegram from Dr. West telling him that when his tour was over his dentistry practise would be in Las Vegas, not Detroit.  McMillan came to Las Vegas and became a strong voice for desegration and was instrumental in breaking the color line of hiring practises on the Las Vegas Strip.

Of Woodrow Wilson, Mabel Hogard and all the other civil right pioneers who toiled in virtual anonymity to make Las Vegas a better place for people of all colors to live.

They all stood in spirit on that dias today as President-elect Barack Obama took the oath of office and we are all better people and a better nation for their sacrifices.