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Memories of historic black Las Vegas

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Feature

Las Vegas Black Image recently asked two respected community leaders to reflect on the evolution of historic black Las Vegas.

Rev. Marion Bennett

Rev. Marion Bennett

“I remember it better then I remember my birthday. I came here from South Carolina on July 7, 1960. I was a pastor for a church in South Carolina. When I first arrived to Las Vegas, black people controlled their own businesses on Jackson Street and they had their own grocery stores. Our first black doctor in Nevada — Dr. Charles I. West. Our first black dentist — Dr. James McMillian. Our Equal Rights Commissioner — Bob Bailey — and myself weren’t afraid to fight the establishment when we identified an injustice. We didn’t take no for an answer. We demanded what belonged to us. We didn’t focus on ourselves. We focused on bringing up the masses. Now, people are more centered on themselves and ‘what’s in it for them.’ I grew up with the idea that we should ‘each one help one.’ Today we don’t have the same dedicated leadership.” — Rev. Marion Bennett, former president of the Las Vegas NAACP. He was recently honored by the Regional Housing Authority with the naming of a new senior complex in his honor.

Joanna Wesley with daughter Willette (Denise) Tarver

Joanna Wesley with daughter Willette (Denise) Tarver

“I have been in Las Vegas for 59 years and I am proud to be the daughter of Rev. Wesley, pastor of El Bethel Baptist Church and Mrs. Wesley. Black Las Vegas is still in need of positive activism to assure equal rights. I am not the kind of person who takes the back seat on an issue that is wrong. And I am certainly not going to let Las Vegas go back in time. On the contrary, I don’t see Las Vegas as the ‘Mississippi of the West.’ I believe Las Vegas is what you allow it to be.” — Joanne Wesley, community activist and owner of historic Wesley’s Barbershop.

Bennett on signs that the community is progressing, including the recent appointment of his daughter, Chief Judge Karen Bennett: “Well, I am very proud of my daughter. She has always been concerned about the community, because this is where she was raised. She understands that everybody is somebody — and if the community gets back to that thought process, while making education a priority, we will see a real community change for good.”

Wesley on the power of one’s legacy: “The way my parents raised me, we were taught to make our own way. You get to know people, you get to know your own intellect and know who is good or bad for yourself. I am proud of all my children, and very optimistic about our black community and the new generation of progressive talent.”  I am so happy that I have passed on some of this insight to my own children: Dedan Lewis, Deanna Lewis and Willette (Denise) Tarver, wife of boxing champ Antonio Tarver.

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