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Federal Court Decree Opened Doors For Black Workers In Las Vegas

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UNLV Library Special Collection

A 1971 welfare rights protest on the Strip was part of the community activism that preceded a consent decree later that year that opened more Las Vegas resort industry jobs to black workers.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, protests, politician action, and court orders chipped away at institutional discrimination in Southern Nevada.

One of the biggest hammers was the 1971 consent decree that required major Las Vegas resorts to hire more black workers.

The decree resolved a federal lawsuit brought by the NAACP that alleged discrimination in the casino industry and a failure to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Prior to the 1970s, most African-American casino workers were in the “back of the house,” where they had little interaction with patrons. UNLV oral historian Claytee White said most African Americans worked as maids or porters. 

However, in 1966, when Caesars Palace opened, it employed two black cocktail waitresses, which was unheard of at the time. 

The consent decree allowed African Americans to become dealers, servers, and mid-level managers in publicity, promotion and entertainment departments.

White said the decree didn't do as much as it should, but it was the start of a change in the city's mindset.

“But people knew that African Americans now could go into a hotel, into a casino and could apply for those jobs,” she said, “It was okay to see a black person in a casino.”

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The agreement came amid a period of activism in Las Vegas, with black residents demanding improved treatment on issues such as voting rights, employment opportunities, housing and welfare.

White said those efforts and the consent decree transformed Las Vegas into a "real city."

“The legacy I think is that we began to become a cosmopolitan city,” she said. 

From Nevada Yesterdays: Civil Rights Part 1 and Civil Rights Part 2

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Claytee White, UNLV Libraries oral historian

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