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Standing up for Las Vegas’ historic black community

November 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Community

Before integration, “The Westside” was home for African-Americans in Las Vegas. Longtime residents still reminisce about the prosperity and opportunity that defined the neighborhood in the middle of the last century — and the presence of so many churches has helped preserve a newer generation’s relationship to the historic community.

Still, many still wonder why economic development and beautification that has touched communities across Nevada has not come to the Westside — sparking theories that it has been left dilapidated and rundown so that private developers and government entities can buy up land and use it in ways that do not benefit the community.

Those concerns are central to the origin story of The Jackson St. Movement — an organization formed to preserve and build economic wealth back in the Historic Westside, with a goal of restoring it as an emblem of black prosperity.

Said Otis Lang, longtime resident and core member of the Jackson St. Movement: “There is a saying: ‘Like minds think alike and will come together.’ That is why myself, Henry “Hen Hen” Thorns, Lester Johnson and Michael Elliott came together and decided that we needed to be proactive and make sure that the Historic Westside received better care. I have been in Las Vegas for 52 years, and remember the times when the Westside flourished with businesses, barbershops, restaurants and more. It was the place to be. Jackson Street was our black community corridor, with casinos like The Town Tavern, El Rio, and People’s Choice. Everyone would congregate in the area, and it would be packed with people and cars. It was a beautiful time. We have never forgotten that time, and now we are committed to holding responsible entities accountable for forgetting about our neighborhood, and being hands-on to give it the attention it needs. It is sad to see the redevelopment of the Las Vegas downtown area that is so close to the Historic Westside, but no monies have been equally invested in the area.”

Members of the Jackson St. Movement are receiving community support — and recently set a goal of resurrecting and redeveloping the Walker Museum.

“We have participated in helping to rebuild the Walker Museum and assisting owner Gwen Walker with reestablishing it in the Historic Westside,” said Lang. “The museum houses many historic artifacts, documents, and photos of the black community — and we are helping to support fundraisers to refurbish it as a major landmark for Las Vegas’ black history. It is our hope to bring awareness to the area, and to try to buy some of the land back and rebuild industries that will create jobs and opportunities for residents in the Historic Westside.”

Otis Lang, Henry Thorns, and Lester Johnson

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