Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2017

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Black Extravaganza was cultural awakening

In December 1968 a group of locals put together a neighborhood show called Black Extravaganza.

It was only eight months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed in Memphis.

"In '68 there still wasn't a lot of things happening for black people on the Horizon," said John T. Stephens II.

"We were aware of things changing nationally. But there wasn't a lot happening here. We wanted to show our community was culturally ready. Maybe we weren't ready for the main room shows. But certainly the lounge shows."

Stephens, a 65-year-old retired repair man, still lives in North Las Vegas.

But back in the late 60s he was trying to promote African American entertainers. He felt shunned on the Strip.

So from 1968 to 1976 he ran the Extravaganza

"I was trying to culturally awake my people in the city," he said Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "It was going to be art and everything that encompasses our life as black people."

At the first show he remembers seeing only one white guy. And that guy left early.

By the 1970s, the troop had gained acceptance, even assisting in giving the key to the city to the Jackson 5.

This year, Stephens' son, John T. Stephens III, has put together an exhibit on his father's old event.

It's in the community gallery at the West Las Vegas Arts Center, 947 West Lake Mead Blvd. It will be on display through March 2.

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