Fifty-six years ago, Las Vegas took a major step toward shaking its nickname as "the Mississippi of the West,” with a historic protest at the Moulin Rouge.
On Saturday, nearly 150 Las Vegas civil rights activists, politicians, religious leaders and citizens filled the International Peace Education Center, 6590 Bermuda Road, to exchange roses, embraces and dialogue in celebration of the event’s anniversary.
“To end segregation, each individual has to end it in his or her heart,” said emcee Katherine Duncan, chairwoman of the Universal Peace Federation. “Our community can only develop and flourish in a peaceful environment.”
Dubbed a day of “reconciliation and healing” in Las Vegas by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, the two-hour event featured a five-person question-and-answer style panel with local community leaders and a symbolic Bridge of Peace gesture, hosted by the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
The panel, featuring NAACP Las Vegas President Roxann McCoy, Congress of Racial Equality spokesman Niger Innis, Las Vegas attorney Mary Perry, businesswoman Janie Greenspun-Gale and Universal Peace Federation President Richard de Sena, answered questions on the current state of race relations in Las Vegas and a future of reaching equality. Greenspun-Gale is the sister of Las Vegas Sun owner and publisher Brian Greenspun.
McCoy, also a local entrepreneur and business consultant, said that although Las Vegas has made progress since 1960, reconciliation with the past is needed to “build bridges for the future.”
“There has been progress made, but, almost parallel to it, we go backward at the same time,” McCoy said. “Some things are changing and some things are staying the same.”
Innis instead focused on the opportunities provided by the historic agreement, and how racial equality has progressed since the 1960s.
“If we were to go back to the Moulin Rouge compact and tell them there was going to be a black president of the United States by 2008, they would have thought we were crazy.
“To keep fighting the same old battles as if nothing has changed is an absurdity,” he added.
De Sena, who leads UPF’s interfaith and peace-building efforts in North America, said fighting racism starts in the family.
“The family is a school of love and peace,” de Sena said. “We need to teach and raise our kids to love one another.”
On March 25, 1960, hotel and business owners, elected officials and local NAACP members gathered in a room at the then-closed central valley hotel to protest racial barriers that prevented people of color — even entertainers — from staying in hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Moulin Rouge, first opened in 1955, was once the only major Las Vegas hotel allowing racial integration. It was a popular hangout spot for black performers like Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dorothy Dandridge, who for years were barred from partying or staying at hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, even where they performed. As a result of the discrimination, white performers and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shecky Green became frequent partygoers at the Moulin Rouge.
If protesters' demands were ignored, the NAACP had planned a major march down the Strip, promising to generate negative international attention to a city that relied on tourism.
The event resulted in what then-NAACP local branch president Dr. James McMillan called “a red-letter day in Las Vegas.”
“We have received assurances from the majority of downtown and Strip businesses that the policy of racial discrimination in Las Vegas has ended,” he announced that day.