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Life on the Westside

Seeing the African-American enclave through the lens of photographer Clinton Wright

Arts and Culture  |  Jun 27, 2017  |  By Aaron Mayes
Muhammad Ali

Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) talks to local school children at Highland Elementary School on Nov. 4, 1965. (UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives)

Editor's Note: 

An exhibit of images culled from the Clinton Wright Photograph Collection at UNLV University Libraries Special Collections & Archives is on display in the Florence “Flo” Mlynarczyk Gallery on the third floor of Lied Library.

Looking through the black-and-white negatives that make up the Clinton Wright Photograph Collection in UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives, you can get a sense of a photographer who was proud of his community. His photographs show a type of pride that is subtle and genuine. His images are revealing.

In the 1960s and 1970s Wright, a photographer living and working in Las Vegas’ Westside neighborhood, documented African-American life in Southern Nevada. His work brings the Westside alive and gives us an unprecedented look into the community. His images are filled with hopes and aspirations: a mother signing her children up for school; boys racing the skate crates they made; a class decked out in their Sunday best. Each image draws back the veil on a community long on history, but short on good visuals.

A graduate of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Wright arrived in Las Vegas in 1959 during a time of deep segregation within the city. While living on the Westside, Wright worked as a portrait and wedding photographer, and later began shooting for the Las Vegas Voice newspaper. He married in 1972 and had two children. Wright and his wife, Joyce, currently lives in Texas after leaving Las Vegas in 2010 to be closer to their grandchildren.

Wright returned to Las Vegas in February for the premiere of the Vegas PBS documentary African Americans: The Las Vegas Experience, which featured many of his photographs. He was invited by the University Libraries to the premiere of the documentary at the Historic Westside School.

Wright originally donated his negatives to Special Collection and Archives as part of “Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas.” Discussions are ongoing to bring in more of his work to UNLV University Libraries.