Transcript of interview with Clarence Ray by Jamie Coughtry, 1991


Digital ID
Transcript of interview with Clarence Ray by Jamie Coughtry, 1991
Material Set
Coughtry, Jamie;
Interview with Clarence Ray conducted by Jaime Coughtry in 1991. Having arrived in Las Vegas in the 1920s, Ray provides a rare perspective on shifts in race relations over the years. He shares stories of early businesses and efforts at organization within the black community. From his arrival, Ray worked to secure equal opportunity and civil rights legislation. During the 1960s, he served two terms as president of the Voters League, formed in 1928 to increase black voting power.
The oral histories of Lubertha Johnson and Woodrow Wilson have helped fill in gaps in the history of black Nevadans in the southern part of the state. The narrative of Clarence Ray-who first visited Las Vegas in 1922, came to stay in 1925, and has lived there for most of the time since then adds significant new information on this important topic. The main source of employment for the relatively small black population during the 1920s and early 1930s was the railroad, but a number were also in business. Blacks lived and operated their businesses in downtown Las Vegas, formerly the Clark Townsite, not in the present Westside, formerly the McWiliiams Townsite. Mr. Ray provides thumbnail sketches of many of the early residents, and is particularly informative about "Mammy" Pinkston, Mary Nettles, the Stevens family, and the Ensley family. Systematic racial discrimination against blacks developed in southern Nevada during the 1930s, and Mr. Ray provides some useful details on this development, even if the reasons for the change from relatively harmonious race relations remain obscure. Mr. Ray also helps us understand early efforts at organization within the black community. He explains the confusion over the date of establishment of the Las Vegas branch of the NAACP, and also describes some of this group's attempts since the early 1930s to end racial discrimination. Mr. Ray participated in efforts to secure the employment of black workers during the building of Hoover Dam, and he also was involved in the dramatic 1960 effort which ended public accommodations discrimination in the gambling industry, and in efforts to secure state civil rights legislation. He describes an early effort to maximize black voting power by organizing the Voters League in 1928; later he was president of the revived Voters League for two terms during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. This oral history also provides new information about black participation in the gambling industry, the growth of which stimulated the development of Nevada's largest metropolitan area. After an early career as a baseball player, Mr. Ray became a professional gambler. While he worked in California and Mexico and, briefly, in Elko and Reno-most of his career was spent in Las Vegas. In these pages he describes several early black-owned gambling houses, including the first one, of which he was a co-owner. He also describes the negative effects of civil rights advances on black-owned gambling (and other businesses) in southern Nevada, and the struggle to get major casinos to hire black dealers, culminating in the 1972 Consent Decree. Although now in his nineties, Mr. Ray's memory remains clear and his judgments are crisply stated. His oral history adds significantly to our knowledge of an interesting person and of the black experience in Nevada's largest city. It is third in a series intended to document much of the history of the black community in Las Vegas. The first in the series was the 1988 Lubertha Johnson oral history, and second was Woodrow Wilson, published in 1989. For subsequent volumes to be published after 1991, readers should consult updates to the Oral History Program Collection Catalog. Elmer R. Rusco Professor Emeritus, Political Science University of Nevada, Reno December, 1991
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HV 6721 L# R39x 1991
Original Collection
Original Date (interview)
Alternative Date
1989 (ca)
Subject (FAST)
DC Type
Genre (TGM)
Specific Genre (LCSH)
This 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: This document is an oral history. It is a spoken account of certain events and phenomena recorded at one particular moment and filtered through one individual's life experience, sensibility, and memory. As such, it should be considered a primary source rather than a final, verified, or complete narrative of the events it records.
Digital Publisher
University of Nevada Las Vegas
Digital Collection
Master Extent
1628 x 2524 pixels; 5.4 x 8.4 inches; 12,636,384 bytes; 119 images
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Master File Quality
24 bit color; 300 ppi

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