LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Imagine going to the Las Vegas Strip to do some gambling and being turned away. That was the case in the 1950s if you were Black.
It took a Black dentist from the South to successfully lead the fight against segregation on the Las Vegas Strip. A local valley school is named after him.
Every morning, Trayon Boone passes by a picture on the way to class at James B. McMillan Elementary School.
“It’s really an impact,” Boone said.
Nikki Longmore is the principal and she believes the man whose picture hangs on the wall reminds students of what is possible.
“They do have the ability to make a change and to make a difference in our community,” she said.
Long before a school was named after him, McMillan moved from the Jim Crow South to Las Vegas where he was the first Black dentist.
“We’re looking at a very segregated Las Vegas that very much mimicked the Wild Wild West,” NAACP Las Vegas President Quentin Savwoir said.
Black families were relegated to the Westside. It’s where Doctor McMillan would build his dental practice and begin his fight for civil liberties by becoming the president of the NCAAP Las Vegas chapter in 1960.
“There was a national protest that was occurring and that Las Vegas needed to address its own history of segregation and racism,” UNLV Assistant Professor Tyler Parry said.
It was then that McMillan’s fight would go beyond the Westside to the Las Vegas Strip. In the 1950s and 1960s, Blacks could only enter the Strip through the back of the house which meant greats like Sammy Davis Junior and Nat King Cole could perform, but couldn’t stay or enjoy the hotels and casinos.
“So they could work there but they couldn’t be seen nor could they be heard,” Parry said.
McMillan took action. He announced 300 people would protest on the Strip.
“Even though Las Vegas, by any objective measure was a pretty racist place, that was still bad for business,” Parry said.
“At that time, he had to be a courageous leader,” Savwoir said.
His courage led to what is now known as the Moulin Rouge agreement which was signed in 1960 at the iconic Moulin Rouge which was the only integrated casino at the time.
“It guarantees that Black people can enter into Strip casinos and not be harassed or thrown out,” Parry said. “Regardless of whatever occurs after 1960, it is just completely true that one must respect the fact that James McMillan was willing to go the distance.”
He paved the way for the next generation of civil rights leaders.
“I hope I walk in his footsteps,” fifth-grader Boone said.
McMillan fought against injustices in the community for the rest of his life. He helped create what would become the Urban Chamber of Commerce in Las Vegas. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 82.