Sunday, March 30, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Last Wednesday was Moulin Rouge Agreement Day. What a day it was.
Most Las Vegans haven’t a clue what happened at the Moulin Rouge on March 26, 1960, and that’s the good news. Until that point, Las Vegas was a segregated city. It hasn’t been since!
The thought of a segregated community is unthinkable today, but it’s important to remember this part of our history, if for no other reason than to make sure we never have to live there again.
I was honored to be a small part of the Moulin Rouge Affair this past week, representing my father, Hank Greenpun, who made sure that Jim Crow and segregation died a quick and dishonorable death in that negotiating room at the then-shuttered Moulin Rouge.
Yes, it was an ugly time in our history. Black entertainers — the people who in large measure put Las Vegas on the map as the Entertainment Capital of the World — were not allowed to stay, eat or play in the very hotels for which they made millions of dollars. They were forced to stay in boarding houses that existed on the west side of the tracks, the segregated black area of Las Vegas.
Las Vegans knew it was wrong and most wanted to end the practice. The powers that be just needed a push, a shove, a fist to the mouth if need be, to get it done. My father was only too happy to oblige!
Ending segregation on the Strip was just the beginning. By the time people like Carolyn Goodman and her husband, Oscar, came to town, men like Mike O’Callaghan and Harry Reid and a few enlightened hotel owners were working hard to advance the cause of equal rights for all. It was not only a federal law by then, it was the moral imperative.
I mention Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman because they were there at the beginning. And they are still here fighting, just like they were Wednesday night at the Elks Lodge.
You see, the fight for equality in this country is never-ending. It is a battle that must be waged every day, especially as our country continues to grow with immigrants of different races, color and creeds from all over the world. Reid is in a unique position to carry that fight to the highest levels of government, and he does just that, which makes him the kind of leader our country needs, not one of those people who prefer to divide us by our differences.
Goodman’s record has been equally impressive and her outspokenness in the cause of equality is second to none. Besides her incredible powers of observation – she said I didn’t look over 50 – she challenged every person in that room to act.
She was there representing Las Vegas by issuing a proclamation naming March 26 “Moulin Rouge Agreement Day,’’ but took the opportunity to importune everyone in that large hall to not just remember history, but to make new history – now!
Everyone, she said, has a stake in today and a responsibility to do what we can to support the legacy of those who came before. Her challenge was for each person to do something now and every day to ensure that we unite our community rather than allow it to be divided.
I couldn’t agree more. And from the nods of agreement from the political leaders, businesspeople and younger faces whose will be living Goodman’s challenge, I believe her words and those of Reid’s will be emulated.
Some would say it is hokey, but I believe that the Bridge of Peace Ceremony of Reconciliation and Healing —the impetus for the Moulin Rouge Affair — was meaningful and appropriate. People of different colors, different social positions and different means joined Kathryn Duncan, the founding president of the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce, and Kimiyo Anceney, chairwoman of the Las Vegas Chapter of the Women’s Federation for World Peace, on a bridge that symbolized coming together — the coming together of different people with different skin colors, different heritages and different ideas, all in an effort to meet each other in “the middle.”
After all, we are a country that makes its best progress from the middle, so the concept, even though it is challenged by the forces from the fringes, should not be a foreign one. And, yes, I participated in the ceremony.
In the process, I met a determined young woman named Nakia Woodson, president of the Nevada Black Historical Society. I also saw old friends like Steven Kwon and District Attorney Steve Wolfson and Assemblyman Harvey Munford, each of whom participated in paying honor to past triumphs while focused on Goodman’s challenge to do it some more — today.
In a related matter, I have been thinking about last Wednesday night in the context of the country some would like us to create. There are plenty of people – those who need to hate, those who need to pull others down, thinking it will help them rise up and, yes, a very few who actually believe what they are doing is right – who think they can hurt the people who dedicate themselves to public service by picking around the edges of otherwise responsible and contributing lives.
I am thinking specifically of Reid and this brouhaha about writing checks from his campaign funds to hire his granddaughter to make gifts for campaign donors and others. Checks, by the way, he could have and should have easily written from personal funds.
There is not a public servant worthy of representing the people of Nevada at any level who hasn’t made and doesn’t make mistakes. Sometimes really stupid ones. But one of the things we should learn from the Moulin Rouge Affair is that only those who act with malice or contempt for their fellow man are deserving of condemnation.
The rest of us are just human.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.