Rosie Lee Seals will forever be known as a difference-maker in the lives of a generation of black Las Vegas mothers.
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
Rosie Lee Seals arrived in Las Vegas in 1951 from Louisiana. Originally headed for San Francisco, she took an unexpected detour after seeing a sign indicating there were jobs in Nevada.
A mother who gave birth to 15 children — seven of whom survived — Seals became a cornerstone for change in Las Vegas. Faced with a racially sensitive environment due to segregation, African Americans could only work, live and play in designated areas of the city. “I am 91 years of age and I once worked at the Thunderbird Hotel and the Stardust Hotel here in Vegas for just a short time because I had to take care of my children,” said Seals.
According to her son, Bishop Tyrone Seals, his “mother is a great woman who was the first to galvanize women in the black community back in the 1960s and ‘70s to fight for the rights of welfare mothers. Employment opportunities were limited during that time for black women who were trying to raise their children. The welfare benefits for low-income families was managed by Clark County at the time, and there was one horrible man who decided how financial assistance would be granted to those low-income families in need. He was similar to Hitler, and would grant a single mother with seven children only $230 a month to take care of her family. My mother was a fighter, and the mothers most affected by this injustice would meet in our front room to fight against that system. Their movement was originally called Clark County Welfare Rights Organization. The name was eventually changed to Operation Life.”
A historic march on the Las Vegas Strip, held on March 7, 1971, was a turning point for the rights of Las Vegas’ welfare mothers. The demonstration received national attention.
“My mother was a community organizer before it became popular in the Las Vegas community,” said Bishop Seals. “She was, and still is, a fighter — who made the difference for the lives of her children and others’ children. She suffered a heart attack and survived, but the movement continued and was overseen by Ruby Duncan and many other women who demanded justice for our welfare mothers.”