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Community leaders protest, condemn 'racist' model train display at Las Vegas mall

Editor's note: A sensitive image of the display in this article may not be suitable for all audiences.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, a model train group called the Las Vegas Garden Railway Society set up a controversial model train display in the Galleria at Sunset Mall.

The display had model trains, buildings, people … and this: a Black man standing with his hands tied behind his back and a noose in front of him.

Many were in shock over the display. Governor Steve Sisolak tweeted, “Racism has no home here in Nevada. This is completely unacceptable, and our community deserves answers.”

We reached out to the Las Vegas Garden Railway Society for comment and to be on the program. We’ve not heard back.

Robert Bush is president of the Las Vegas chapter of the National Action Network. He is one of many community leaders who attended a protest this week condemning the display.

“I was appalled and disappointed,” said Bush. “And not just the display, but the lack of detail that could have caught the mistake. With the mall, I would like to say that the mall stepped to the plate. They were very positive in the direction that the meeting went. And also, the things that we're going to see in the future.”

He said the organization tried to play the victim. 

“They said, ‘We've been putting up this display for years, And nobody's ever said anything about it.’”

Bush said if they had met, it could have been an opportunity to depict Black people in a positive way when it comes to railroads. 

“Elijah McCoy was responsible for making sure that the parts were lubricated on the train … Andrew Jackson Beard, who invented -- back in those days, the trains had to come together, and they had to be put together manually. And people lost limbs and people lost arms. He lost his arm or a limb, putting it together. But in that he developed a coupler that allowed the trains to bump together and lock together and thus preventing a lot of injury. There are a lot of ways that they could have prevented or that could have depicted Blacks,” he said.

Derek Rimson, a bishop with The Wealthy Place Ministries, echoed that statement, saying the original display should not have happened in 2022, let alone in Nevada, one of the most diverse states.

“I think they thought they could put it there and get away with it. And nobody would take an interest in it,” Rimson said. 

This is where the concept of critical race theory is helpful, Bush said. And Claytee White, the director of UNLV’s Oral History Research Center, agrees. 

“It definitely demonstrates that need and I don't think Latinx history and Black history should be separate. I think it's all American history. I think that's where we make the mistake. We don't teach American history,” she said. “But the textbooks we're using today are no good. The instruction that we're using today does not work, we need to change the entire system. So yes, critical race theory, the way that people understand it today, is the teaching of all of history.”

The SEIU Local 1107 union also took interest.

“We believe that when our union members do well, all working Nevadans do well, and any display like this, the racism implied creates an indifference and that indifference is economic,” said Edward Webster, the group’s spokesperson. 

“When instances like this occur, SEIU Local 1107 will stand in lockstep with our partners in the community.”

Robert Bush, president, Las Vegas chapter of the National Action Network; Derek Rimson, bishop, The Wealthy Place Ministries; Edward Webster, communications and political coordinator, SEIU Local 1107;  Claytee White, director, UNLV’s Oral History Research Center

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Zachary Green is the Coordinating Producer and a Reporter for KNPR's State of Nevada Program. He reports on Clark County, minority affairs, health, real estate, business, and gardening. You'll occasionally hear Zachary Green reporting and fill-in hosting on the State of Nevada program.