West Las Vegas Rich in History - 8 News NOW

West Las Vegas Rich in History

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Westside School in the 1930s Westside School in the 1930s
West Las Vegas West Las Vegas
Westside School Class of 1951. Westside School Class of 1951.
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LAS VEGAS -- Historic west Las Vegas, one of the oldest communities in the valley with a rich history, has declined since its heyday.

Starting in the 1930s, historic west Las Vegas served as an example of the racism that divided the nation and city.

Today, the area is in the central part of the valley, between US 95 and Interstate-15.

The area was founded as the McWilliams townsite, later becoming known as "Westside" because of its location west of the railroad tracks.

The area was a crucial transportation hub for white miners in 1905 and by the 1930s, blacks began purchasing land and running businesses.

SLIDESHOW: Historic West Las Vegas

But Jim Crow laws segregated black Americans to the Westside, creating a close-knit community.

Family, freedom and the pursuit of prosperity depicts life in the historic Westside around 1930.

"We socialized together, we worked together," said Hannah Brown, a Westside School graduate.

Brenda Williams, an author and historian, said businesses included barbershops, beauty shops and pool halls.

Despite racial discrimination and hatred, hope was alive.

"This was a village of individuals who cared for each other," Williams said, who authored "Westside School: Our School, Our Community, Our Time."

Growing up, her father, Richard, was a Teamster, and mother, Juanita, was a casino maid who later managed the North Las Vegas Housing Authority.

Whether at home or school, education was king.

"It's reflected in the number of photos, the number of write-ups about the spelling bee winners from Westside School, (for example) the award winning Westside School band," Williams said.

Brown and Williams attended Westside School together. Built in 1923, the school was the first to be built in west Las Vegas and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The highlight of my life was being at school," Brown said. "They expected you to peak your potential."

And so Brown did. She operated the longest-running black business and became the longest-serving president of the Urban Chamber, which pushed casinos to consider black Americans as managers.

At the time, blacks could only work as maids, porters or musicians.

"When you speak of the black entertainers not being able to socialize in the hotels that they appeared in; it was good for us because they all came to the west side," Brown said.

Today, empty lots fill the spaces where popular casinos used to be, such as the Jackson Hotel and Carver House. In the 1940s, Jackson Avenue was the place to be for everyone who was anyone.

It's on the west side of town where businessman John Edmond said blacks did more than just survive.

"All of the business people in this area were black women," he said. "A lot of people don't know that."

No one knew the radiance would soon fade when Las Vegas became integrated.

"It was just a beautiful time," Williams said.

Although racial barriers were broken, equality became an everyday fight and black businesses stopped supporting one another, forever changing the tight-knit community.

"When we were allowed to buy homes in any area of town that we could afford to live in, then of course people that had access to funds moved into integrated areas and it divided the community," Brown said.

Black Americans no longer had to live, gamble or dine in west Las Vegas.

Desegregation didn't eliminate all the money or people, but it did damage the economy.

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