Growing up in the ’50s I was never taught the contributions made by the black community in our history class. By engaging in this celebration every year, I have been encouraged to learn more about the accomplishments made by people of color in our country’s history.
In honor of Black History Month and, as chair of the Boulder City Democratic Club, I was afforded the opportunity to invite Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at the UNLV libraries, to participate in our monthly Zoom meeting.
The focus for this meeting was to highlight two topics of interest in the Las Vegas area. The members chose to learn the history behind the Moulin Rouge Hotel, which promoters called “the nation’s first major interracial hotel,” and Joe Neal, Nevada’s first black state senator who “served more than three decades in the legislative chamber and championed the poor and working class.”
I sat mesmerized as Director White recapped the story of how the Moulin Rouge Hotel got started. Questions I had in my mind were about what it must have been like to be there on opening night? What did the hotel look like inside? Why did the most popular entertainers want to perform there? All my questions were clearly answered with the facts and documented stories gathered from the hotel staff, famous black and white entertainers who performed there and people who stayed there during that time. Some are still alive today to carry on the history. White’s storytelling made me feel like I had been there but realizing, with much disappointment, I missed all if it.
I was affected in the same way when she and others on the Zoom meeting, shared personal stories about Joe Neal. What he was like as a man serving his county in the Air Force and moving up in his life to working his way through politics and gaining an incredible reputation as a “giant of a man.” He was beloved by everyone he came in contact with and, the sharing of personal funny stories with people who had been around him, made me feel like I missed getting to know this wonderful man and the impact he had on Nevada’s history.
By the end of the meeting, I was encouraged to see that there were several young people in attendance who later expressed how much they enjoyed and had learned about our local history from Director White. I hope they too will be as inspired to listen more carefully to the history we never learned.
Charm McElree is chairperson of the Boulder City Democratic Club and active with Operation Recognition, a national program that grants veterans their high school diplomas.