by Vanessa Rivers
I went to a Town Hall meeting last night, held by County Commissioners, to receive input from the community about what should be built at the site of the former “Moulin Rouge” Hotel and Casino in West Las Vegas, NV. The significance of this property is that when black performers like Sammy Davis Jr, and Lena Horne performed at the casinos on the Vegas strip, due to segregation, they were not allowed to stay in the very hotels that they JUST performed in. The theme by white’s that black people are tolerated to take care of their babies, cook, clean, dance, sing, and make them laugh, but sleeping in the same hotel, now that’s where the line is drawn. This was the first and only integrated hotel and casino where black celebrities and tourist alike could stay, gamble and enjoy themselves just like any other American.
The West Las Vegas neighborhood is just like many neighborhoods in cities across America where the former thriving and vibrant black communities have been decimated with abandoned buildings, run down homes and one too many churches, liquor stores or check cashing places, but no businesses that would provide opportunities for employment.
So, picture this, several development firms are bidding to purchase this site to bring improvements to West Las Vegas and to preserve this historical landmark. These firms were proposing building restaurants, movie theaters, stores, outdoor concert hall, etc., which all would revitalize the community, bring the opportunity for employment, and for many, a chance of moving into the middle class. A few weeks ago, a judge decides not to accept any of the bids from the developers, but to accept a much lower bid that was offered by the County, to build a “Department of Human Services”. WHAT? They are going to build a glorified “welfare office” on this historical site in the black community.
What happened here in Vegas, is no different than what has and is happening in the black communities throughout this country. The cities start off by failing to invest and develop in these areas, and the residents aren’t given an opportunity to have an input to what type of businesses and facilities are wanted and needed in their communities. Can you imagine the county putting this type of office in any upscale neighborhood in the city where you live? We all know the answer to that; NO. The entire public, not just the West side residents should have been consulted from the very beginning, and not just as an afterthought. The County started taking heat once the public got wind of it, and there was a collective “Oh, hell no”, hence the Town Hall meeting.
Not unlike most black communities, the first residents were people who migrated, to the cities looking for a better life for themselves and their families. West Las Vegas gave them that source of “a better life” for them, and they want this part of their community back. I don’t know what will happen now, but I do know that this “paternal notion” from whites, and not just from individuals, but also from local and state governments, that black people are like children in need of caretaking; this must end. We can, have, and will continue to take care of ourselves, all we need is for them to stop using institutionalized racism and lack of opportunity to keep us from propelling forward. Black people, not unlike, i.e., Chinese and Italian Americans want and need to celebrate and maintain our culture.
I have no doubt that the black citizens of Las Vegas and the surrounding cities, can and will fight to make sure that the site of the former “Moulin Rouge” reflects the rich history of those who traveled those long dusty and dangerous roads “from down south”, to Las Vegas, for a better life.