Published Thursday, March 27, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Updated Thursday, March 27, 2014 | 2:19 p.m.
As Nevadans are celebrating the state’s history and making giant cakes for the 150th Anniversary, the Harrison House, Nevada Black Historical Society and other organizations wanted to make sure the history of blacks in Nevada was also celebrated.
On March 26, 1960, civil rights leaders, hotel owners and public officials met at the Moulin Rouge to broker a deal that led to the desegregation of Las Vegas casinos. Wednesday night, on the 54th anniversary of the accord, the Moulin Rouge Agreement was celebrated at a ceremony at the Elks Lodge 1468, on West Charleston Boulevard.
The event was a celebration of past civil rights achievements while also serving as a reminder of work to be done to foster community growth and unity.
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, accepted “Ambassador for Peace” awards on behalf of Bob Bailey, who was the master of ceremonies at the Moulin Rouge, and Rev. Donald Clark, the last two surviving people who were at the historic meeting.
Munford moved to Las Vegas in 1966, but he pointed to Lucille Bryant in the audience, who moved from Louisiana in 1953 to work as a maid at the Algiers for $8 a day. At the time, she was not even allowed to cash her paycheck on the Strip. After desegregation, blacks were gradually allowed to hold jobs other than maid or porter, and Bryant eventually became manager of the Stardust’s uniform room.
Hank Greenspun, founder and former publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, put Bob Bailey on television in Las Vegas and helped broker the historic accord. His son, and current Sun Publisher Brian Greenspun, said his father got a lot of hate mail for putting Bailey on television while sharing his memories of the time.
“The agreement … ended segregation on the Las Vegas Strip and allowed the city to grow to international prominence,” Greenspun said. “It would not and could not have happened but for that agreement and for that hotel and especially the people you are honoring today.”
“It is my hope that we will not need to do this 50 years from now or five years from now. It’s clear in Las Vegas that we are past whatever that history was, but I would be foolish and you would be foolish to accept it if I said: ‘It’s done. It’s over.’ It is a continuing struggle.”
Mayor Carolyn Goodman presented a proclamation declaring March 26 Moulin Rouge Agreement Day in Las Vegas.
The central part of the celebration was a Bridge of Peace ceremony conducted by the Women’s Federation for World Peace, a nongovernmental organization that works with Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and works with women to transcend differences in race, culture, and religion to resolve complex problems and conflict.
“The Bridge of Peace ceremony stands for reconciliation and repentance,” said Kimiyo Anceney, chairwoman of the local chapter of the federation. "It’s also about taking things a step further to make a new beginning. It is a step forward for the groups and people being represented.”
Several pairs walked across the stage, greeted each other and then held hands as they walked off stage together in a gesture of peace and reconciliation.
“In our hearts, we have not come to the point where we really see the dignity and the honor and the value of each person around us,” said Kim Dadachanji, director of the Maryland chapter of the federation and the event’s keynote speaker.
“We know that walking across a bridge is not solving the problems, but when we go across the bridge we are saying that we repent that we have not come further, we repent for what has happened in the past, and offer gratitude that we live in a time when we can effect change.”
The Harrison House provided housing to black entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1940s and 1950s, when they could perform, but not gamble or stay at the casinos. Today the Harrison House is a charitable organization dedicated to community development and celebrating Nevada’s black history.
“With the celebration around Nevada’s sesquicentennial we wanted to make sure African-American history is recorded along with Nevada’s 150-year history. If we didn’t step up, it might not be there,” said Katherine Duncan of the Harrison House. “There were blacks in Nevada before it became a state, and they were fighting for freedom for all Americans. It was a black man who found a new route through the mountains to California, so people didn’t have to go over Donner Pass anymore.”
The Moulin Rouge celebration is part of a week’s worth of events, the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration, held by the Harrison House to celebrate Nevada’s black heritage. It all culminates this weekend with a street fair on F Street near the house, 1001 F St., and blues and gospel music festivals on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
For more information on all of the events visit harrisonhouselasvegas.org or call 702-331-5511.