|Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens/Equal Rights Commission|
Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens/
Governor Grant Sawyer (1959-1967) used his power and influence to push the cause of civil rights in Nevada - it was the most salient issue of his administration. He banned discrimination in all phases of state employment and required state contractors to do the same. In the gaming industry he tried moral persuasion, and when that failed, his power over licensing to force equal access to public accommodations. The threat of barring gaming licenses was disarmed when the State Attorney General ruled in March 1960 that the Gaming Control Act of 1959 did not allow the Gaming Commission to attach conditions to State gaming licenses subjecting licensees to disciplinary action for racial discrimination.
The first legislative remedies to prohibiting discrimination in Nevada came during the 1961 Legislative session. The Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens (NCERC), currently known as the Equal Rights Commission, was created by the Nevada State Legislature in 1961. Senate Bill 246 sponsored by Senators James Slattery, Mahlon Brown, William Dial, Carl Dodge, Martin Duffy, Peter Echeverria, Frank Gallagher, Floyd Lamb, Wilson McGowan, Warren Monroe, Bruce Parks, William Rand, and Fred Settlemeyer amended Title 19 of the Nevada Revised Statutes; new provisions in sections 2-9 outlined both public policy and a new commission to gather information about discrimination. These later became part of NRS 233. The public policy statement read:
Sec. 2. 1. It is hereby declared to be the public policy of the State of Nevada to protect the welfare, prosperity, health and peace of all the people of the state, and to foster the right of all persons reasonably to seek, obtain and hold employment and housing accommodations, and reasonably to seek and be granted services in places of public accommodation without discrimination, distinction or restriction because of race, religious creed, color, national origin or ancestry.
The statute authorized the establishment of a commission to investigate actual and alleged practices of discrimination and acts of prejudice and report back to the Legislature so that statutory remedies of equal protection and opportunity could be crafted. The commission consisted of five members serving at the pleasure of the governor and consisted of representatives of the religious, racial, and ethnic groups in Nevada. The governor appointed the chairman. The commission was required to meet at least twice a year and was directed to:
-Foster mutual understanding and respect among all racial, religious and ethnic groups
The first commission members consisted of Bob Bailey, Las Vegas; Lillian Collins, Boulder City; the Reverend Robert J. Sawyer, Reno; Bert Goldwater, Reno; and Arthur Manning, Owyhee. The statute gave the commission the power to receive and investigate complaints and to initiate its own investigations of tensions, practices of discrimination and acts of prejudice against any person or group because of race, color, creed, national origin or ancestry and to conduct private or public hearings. The commission had the power to subpoena witnesses and request evidence in their investigations.
The first meeting of the commission took place at the Clark County Courthouse, July 15, 1961. Chairman Bert Goldwater opened by noting the commission did not make charges, enforce, or reprimand but was only a fact-finding body. Their purpose was to make a broad study of the problem of discrimination in Nevada and make recommendations for legislation. (Attorney General file, AGO-0080, #9.)
The commission first held hearings in Reno on November 12-13, 1962. Attending were top officials from all state and local government agencies and private businesses. Subsequent meetings were held in Hawthorne on November 26th and in Las Vegas on December 17-18, 1962; and January 4, 1963. Discussions on compliance to the public policy related to discrimination were held at all the meetings and participants spoke of why there were so few minorities employed in various fields. Public officials claimed they followed state policy to the letter and the lack of minorities was due to a lack of applicants. However, the owner of the El Capitan Casino in Hawthorne, Mr. Smith, claimed he “must continue to discriminate or loose customers.” 95% of the gaming representatives had to be subpoenaed to attend the Las Vegas meetings in order to obtain their testimony.
NCERC, with the governor’s efforts and subsequent legislation became the conduit for change regarding racial discrimination by reporting on employment practices of employers; conducting compliance reviews of state agencies, hotels and casinos, school districts, retail businesses, and federal government installations; and holding private and public hearings that mandated compliance. The commission also conducted extensive educational campaigns fostering the eradication of prejudice. Over the next decade the commission refined a policy of reconciliation as their main tool in resolving complaints of bias in employment and public accommodations. A major accomplishment during this period was a landmark decision in which the U.S. Justice Department initiated a consent decree involving the Nevada Resort Association, every major strip hotel property in Las Vegas, and four trade unions with which the Association had exclusive referral agreements. This decree came as a result of a complaint filed with NCERC in March 1968 by the local branch of the NAACP. The resulting consent order of November 1969 required hotels to hire and unions to refer blacks to position from which they were previously excluded.
The State Legislature of 1971 enacted NRS Chapter 118, the Nevada Fair Housing Law and designated NCERC to implement and enforce its provisions which for the first time included discrimination based on sex. The 1973 and 1975 sessions of the Legislature added additional classes of persons to be protected from discrimination based on age and disability, both physical and visual. Although Commission membership stayed at five in number the Commission’s staff grew to include an Executive Secretary, secretaries, and investigators, with offices in both Las Vegas and Reno.
Charges of discrimination in employment are still the largest single cause of complaints filed with the Commission. The Commission has the authority to investigate individual complaints but also employment practices of an entire system such as a business, union or employment program. The Commission is now part of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.
Records of the Equal Rights Commission 1958-1997; bulk 1970-1972 2.5 cu. ft.
Affirmative Action Records 1958; 1963-1979; bulk 1970-1972 1 cu. ft. ERC-0001
Compliance Reports 1965-1984; bulk 1970-1972 1.25 cu. ft. ERC-0002 to ERC-0003
Administrative Records 1967; 1977-1988; 1995-1997 .25 cu. ft. ERC-0003
The minutes for the Commission are incomplete but include the following:
-December 8, 1977
Minutes for the Commission meetings of July 15, 1961 and December 12, 1963 are part of the Nevada Attorney General correspondence files and are located in box AGO-0080, folder 9. Folders 8 and 10 also contain correspondence related to the early days of the Commission and to the months in late 1959 and early 1960 preceding the Winter Olympic Games at Squaw Valley.
Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly of the Fifty-Seventh Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada, vol. III, “Biennial Report of the Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens, 1971-1972.” 1973.
Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly of the Fifty-Eighth Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada, vol. II, “Biennial Report of the Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens, 1973-1974.” 1975.
Appendix to Journals of Senate and Assembly of the Fifty-Ninth Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada, vol. III, “Biennial Report of the Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens, July 1, 1974-June 30, 1976. 1977.
Nevada Attorney General correspondence files, 1959-1965, in the Nevada State Archives. AGO-0080, #8-10.
Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens. Report of the Nevada Commission on Equal rights of Citizens to Governor Grant Sawyer and the 1965 Session of the Nevada Legislature. 1966.
Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens. Report of the Nevada Commission on Equal Rights of Citizens to Governor Paul Laxalt and the 1967 Session of the Nevada Legislature, January 1, 1965-December 31, 1966. 1967.
Nevada Revised Statutes, Chapter 233, Nevada Equal Rights Commission, Rev. 10/3/2003. Online version at http://www.leg.state.nv.us/NRS/NRS-233.html.
Nevada Secretary of State. Commission Appointments card index for Equal Rights of Citizens Commission, 1961-1996. SECSTATE-1038.
Nevada State Library and Archives. State Archives. Historical Myth a Month #105, “The Mississippi of the West” by Guy Rocha, Nevada State Archives Archivist, February 2006. Online here.
Nevada State Library and Archives. Records Management. Records Schedule for Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation - Equal Rights Commission, Agency Number 361202, Sept. 6, 2000. Online version here. pp. 37-40.
Statutes of the State of Nevada passed at the Fifty-first Session of the Legislature, 1961, Chapter 364, pp. 731-733.
Statutes of the State of Nevada passed at the Fifty-ninth Session of the Legislature, 1977, Chapter 233 (NRS 233), pp. 1181-1183.