The Mob Museum Presents the African American Experience in Las Vegas

Cordelia+Gay+presents+to+Valley+students+the+history+of+African+Americans+in+Las+Vegas.+She+provided+digital+literature+for+the+students+to+follow+along+with+the+slideshow.

Courtesy of Cordelia Gay

Cordelia Gay presents to Valley students the history of African Americans in Las Vegas. She provided digital literature for the students to follow along with the slideshow.

Kahleia Corpuz, Editor-in-Chief

On Wednesday April 14th, 2021, Mob Museum Educator Cordia Gay presented the history of African Americans in Las Vegas to Valley students.

US History teacher Sara Hupp planned this presentation with the Mob Museum to introduce her students to their newest unit, the Civil Rights Movement in America. Hupp’s main purpose for this presentation was not only to provide context on the unit for her students but also to provide an experience that her students could connect to.

“History class runs the risk of being cookie cutter,” Hupp said, “but my philosophy–one that my colleagues here at Valley share–is that our curriculum needs to reflect our students and the full diversity of our community. Only then can social studies classes be a place where students feel seen and valued and empowered, as well as a means to build a more empathetic populace.”

Through a virtual powerpoint, Gay explored the impact of the African American community in Las Vegas, starting from the first African American in Nevada, John Howell, to Block 17, which was a block dedicated to minorities in Las Vegas, all the way to how black entertainers in Las Vegas indirectly sparked the end of segregation talks. Gay was quick to point out patterns in Las Vegas’s history to current events happening in the United States.

Gay presents a map of early Las Vegas, which was separated into 30 blocks for different purposes. Block 17 was reserved for “foreigners” and people of color. (Kahleia Corpuz)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Gay quoted George Santayana, adding, “This observation is often repeated and paraphrased when discussing the value of history. As an educator, I agree with this statement and it is part of what motivates me to share Las Vegas history (or any historical narrative) with young people. History teaches by example. Knowing the past allows us to recognize when similar negative patterns are resurfacing. This insight permits us to quickly respond and adjust our course.”

Many of Hupp’s students took the opportunity to attend the presentation in hopes of learning more of the history of the city they live in.

“I initially wanted to attend this presentation because I found the topic we would be speaking about interesting,” junior Leslie Mendoza Cabello said. “I love history, and I feel like we don’t learn a lot about Las Vegas’ history, so these special occasions are something to take advantage of. [What really stuck with me] was the amount of impact people of color have had on Las Vegas. They in some ways built Las Vegas, the casinos, neighborhoods, and culture. We not only learned about the impact they had, but as well their input in each small community that helped create the city of Las Vegas.”

Along with Hupp’s current students, her past students were also invited to the presentation as they were also supposed to receive the same presentation last year. Some of her past students came with a lot of the presentation sticking with them beyond the one hour.

“One thing that really stuck with me is that the presenter said we are in this cycle of neverending hate,” senior Kevin Osoroio Hernandez said. “I asked her if we will ever reach a point where there is no hate. She responded with no. She further explained that we do not like things we do not understand as humans, and there will always be people who cry dissent. With education, we may not reach a utopian society of love. But I believe we will reach a society of acceptance for all individuals of different identities, and our generation will be the ones who do it.”