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Las Vegas' Westside Began As Townsite On Other Side Of Tracks courtesy of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas. courtesy of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas.

The roots of the Las Vegas Westside — the historically black neighborhood near downtown — predate the city’s 1905 founding.

A year earlier surveyor J.T. McWilliams staked out a community west of the railroad tracks that today go through downtown Las Vegas.

After the 1905 railroad land auction seen as the start of Las Vegas, the McWilliams area became largely vacant as residents moved east of the tracks, where the town was growing.

“Bonanza and the railroad track is where the African-American community begins,” Claytee White, the oral historian with UNLV Libraries, told KNPR's State of Nevada. 

Three decades later, as the town boomed during construction of Hoover Dam, black residents living on the east side of the tracks near downtown Las Vegas were told by businessmen to relocate to the McWilliams site from an area where the Mob Museum sits today.

“White people moved into housing developments that had restrictive covenants," White said, "So, African-Americans could not live in those neighborhoods. The African-American community moved west of the tracks”

That sparked the beginning of the Westside, a vibrant, self-contained African-American community where most Southern Nevada black residents lived until segregation ended in the late 1960s and 1970s.

“Your world was on the Westside if you were African-American,” White said.


Claytee White, UNLV Libraries oral historian

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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.