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‘So much untapped potential’: Historic Westside panel talks past, eyes future

Updated February 21, 2022 - 11:14 am

A panel of local leaders, community activists and educators looked to the past and the future during a discussion Saturday about Las Vegas’ Historic Westside.

The Nevada State Museum hosted “The Social Life of the Historic Westside” as part of the 13th annual Black History Month Festival at the Springs Preserve.

“We want to talk about social aspects of the African American community and how powerful and influential those have been over the years and what it has meant to the community,” said Claytee White, panel moderator and director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV.

White was joined by retired educator and administrator Eva Simmons, community activist and longtime Westside resident Ida Gaines, Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear and Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II.

Gaines said churches always have played a part in community advancement, going back to when they would host NAACP meetings on Sunday afternoons.

“So that was a way of interconnecting with our people in the community,” Gaines said.

Simmons said the Westside community still shapes who she is to this day. She talked about her family members who were ministers in Las Vegas and the impact they had on the community.

“Our ministers, when it was against the law for us to learn to read, were the ones who helped to teach us to read and how to behave in public so you don’t draw the attention of law enforcement,” Simmons said.

McCurdy talked about the Westside’s future and ongoing efforts to revitalize the area.

“We have so much untapped potential,” McCurdy said.

He mentioned the opportunity for investments in business and infrastructure, work on a new West Las Vegas library and an affordable housing project. Clark County received more than $440 million through the passage of American Rescue Plan Act, according to McCurdy.

“We have to make sure that we grow in a way that doesn’t gentrify the area,” McCurdy said.

Crear said he was honored to be asked to join some of the “matriarchs” of the community on the panel. He called the Historic Westside “one of the most important areas” in the history of Las Vegas.

“The residents of the Historic Westside helped build this community,” Crear said. “Whether it was working in the casinos, working at the dam, building up industry — the residents of Historic Westside did that.”

He said that for years before desegregation, African Americans had a “ burgeoning community” in the Westside full of businesses and restaurants.

“We need to recognize those individuals that played such a role in building not only this Historic Westside but also the city of Las Vegas, and we need to understand the history of that as well as how we fit in moving forward,” Crear said. “Because if you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going.”

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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