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Edited narrative of interview with Lubertha Johnson by Jamie Coughtry, 1988
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Digital IDohr000185
TitleEdited narrative of interview with Lubertha Johnson by Jamie Coughtry, 1988
NarratorJohnson, Lubertha
Material SetJohnson, Lubertha
InterviewerCoughtry, Jamie;
DescriptionEdited narrative of an interview with Lubertha Johnson by Jamie Coughtry, dated 1988. Recalling her youth in Mississippi and move to Las Vegas, Johnson discusses civil rights, discrimination, and other topics between 1940 and 1970.
Abstract"One day I'm going to do something to change this situation, " vowed young Lubertha Johnson in the wake of her grandfather's violent death at the hands of white Mississippi bigots. The following narrative of one black professional woman's service in the cause of civil rights amply documents the fulfillment of that grief-inspired pledge. From the formative phase of the modern black struggle for equality in the 1940s, through the high tide of activism in the 1960s and early 1970s, Lubertha Johnson remained in the vanguard of the movement in Las Vegas, Nevada, patiently chipping away at the local edifice of racism. Born in turn-of-the-century rural Mississippi, Ms. Johnson (nee Miller) followed a familiar path out of the deep South in response to declining economic opportunities and increasing racial hostility. Both mechanization and lynching rates, for example, were on the rise when her parents made the difficult decision to follow other family members to Chicago with their only daughter, leaving a large, loving, extended family clan behind. Already educated beyond the dreams of most southern women of her background, the young Lubertha augmented a boarding school degree with college classes in education and social work in Chicago and Nashville. During the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal provided her with a job in a local WPA recreation program. Equally important was her introduction to the sophisticated worlds of northern black culture and politics. In Chicago one could not only read about black life across the country in journals such as the Chicago Defender, one could also work through the Urban League and the NAACP to improve that life, for oneself and one's people. By the early 1940s, her father's declining health necessitated a second move, this time to the far West. After a brief interlude in Pasadena, California, Mrs. Johnson settled in Las Vegas in November, 1943. After a six month stay, she returned to Pasadena for a short time, continuing her work in the field of public housing, this time for the Urban League. Within a year, she was back in Las Vegas, where she resides today in her Westside home. Despite the vast differences between the dusty desert gambling oasis and her previous homes, there was one constant. Jim Crow preceded her to the southern part of the Silver State and was everywhere in evidence by the time of her arrival. Indeed, blacks who had thronged to the area from the South to get their first crack at high-wage, wartime industrial employment had already dubbed Las Vegas "the Mississippi of the West." City officials took the lead in the racial transformation of the city by rezoning the small prewar black residential area known as Westside for commercial and residential development. Restrictive licensing and housing covenants then kept blacks there, creating a modern ghetto. This was part of a concerted effort to discourage black defense plant workers from staying in the county, and to segregate thoroughly those who did remain. Lubertha Johnson's first job in Clark County was with the federally-funded Carver Park housing project across the highway from the mammoth Basic Magnesium, Incorporated (BMI) plant in Henderson. As recreation director, Mrs. Johnson found herself responsible for maintaining morale among black families residing in this so-called "Model Negro Community." Only a month before her arrival, black workers coming off a shift were ordered to change and shower in facilities separate from those used by their white co-workers before joining their families across the road in segregated apartments. Ultimately, however, most blacks in fact preferred the rude, crowded conditions of the segregated Las Vegas Westside.
Identified IndividualsJohnson, Lubertha
Identified Corporate BodiesNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People @LoC
Identified NeighborhoodCarver Park; Westside
Neighborhood City / TownLas Vegas
SourceF849.L35 J64x 1988
Original CollectionJamie Coughtry for University of Nevada, Reno Collection
Original Date (interview)1988
Subject (FAST)African American nurses
African Americans--Civil rights
African Americans--Migrations
Civil rights workers
Community activists
Discrimination in employment
Discrimination in housing
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Race relations--Political aspects
DC TypeText
Genre (TGM)Interview Transcripts
Specific Genre (LCSH)Transcripts
RightsThis material may be protected by copyright. Personal, including educational and academic, use of this material is without restriction; but acknowledgement of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, University Libraries is requested whether the use is oral, web or in print. Commercial use of any portion of this material requires permission. For further information please contact Digital Collections:
Digital PublisherUniversity of Nevada Las Vegas
Digital CollectionThe African American Experience in Las Vegas
Master Extent2325 x 3102 pixels; 7.8 x 10.3 inches; 21,945,618 bytes; 87 images
Master File Formatimage/tiff
Master File Quality24 bit color; 300 ppi
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