Las Vegas Juneteenth Pays Homage to Black Americans Who Helped Shape Strip

Today is Juneteenth, the annual observance recognizing the 1865 freeing of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Tx. While celebrations date back to 1866 — the year after Union Army General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, a legal decree ordering that all remaining enslaved people be freed — Juneteenth only became a federal holiday last year when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

A woman in 2019 holds a Juneteenth sign at Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. The recently enacted federal holiday celebrates the ending of slavery in Texas in 1865 two years after President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed slavery illegal. (Image: Getty)

Juneteenth events have been ongoing for the past several days in Las Vegas, the Entertainment Capital of the World that relied heavily on African Americans to help build and manage the Strip’s early casino resorts.

The Las Vegas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held their second annual Juneteenth Jubilee Breakfast on Friday at The Cosmopolitan. The marquee Juneteenth event in Southern Nevada brought the Las Vegas community together to learn about the country’s divided past, celebrate the present, and build connections for the future.

The Jubilee is a fundraiser for the NAACP Las Vegas chapter. Money raised, the association says, will be used to support youth and education initiatives.

Blacks Backbone of Las Vegas

African Americans played a considerable role in the construction of the Strip’s early developments in the 1950s and 60s. Many of the mobsters who built the drag’s early casinos acquired their funding through the American National Insurance Company (ANICO) based in Galveston. At the time, Galveston was a resort town where unregulated gambling occurred.

The Strip’s casinos opened as white-only resorts. But the country’s most famous Black entertainers — Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few — were welcomed to perform.

However, even such A-listers were barred from mingling inside the casinos after the curtains fell. While Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Judy Garland, and other white entertainers rubbed shoulders with guests, dancing and drinking cocktails into the early morning hours, the Blacks were escorted off the casino premises following their shows — often through a back door.

The Black headliners were not even afforded accommodations inside the Strip resorts. Instead, such entertainers were relegated to designated Black hotels in West Las Vegas.

No Las Vegas casino has more historical importance to the Black community than the Moulin Rouge Hotel. The hotel and casino opened in May of 1955 in West Las Vega as the casino town’s first desegrated gambling property.

Though the Moulin Rouge closed only six months later after incurring bankruptcy, the casino facilitated the early conversations between city officials, hotel proprietors, and African American leaders who eventually ended the prohibition of Blacks inside Strip casinos.

Biden Juneteenth Statement

Biden on Friday issued a Juneteenth proclamation acknowledging the historic anniversary of Texan slaves being freed. Granger’s General Order No. 3 came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln declared all enslaved persons free on January 1, 1863, through his own executive order and presidential proclamation.

Biden said in his decree that “the poisonous ideology of racism has not yet been defeated — it only hides.” The president referenced the May 14 mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket where a gunman targeted Black Americans.

“As we confront the awful reality of yet another gunman massacring innocent people in the name of hatred, racism, and fear, we must meet this moment with renewed resolve.  We must stand together against white supremacy and show that bigotry and hate have no safe harbor in America,” Biden stated.

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