Sarann Knight-Preddy - A Civil Rights Symbol in Las Vegas
Sarann Knight-Preddy left behind one of the most influential legacies that Las Vegas has ever seen. Though she is widely known for being a pioneer in the gaming industry, we believe one of her most notable achievements was the way she courageously thrust the civil rights movement forward in this once heavily segregated town. She was born in 1920 in Oklahoma and migrated west with a large number of African Americans who were hoping to create a life away from discrimination.
She moved to Westside, Las Vegas with her husband and close family, and as luck would have it her father, who was a carpenter, built them a house when many residents were living in tents and shacks. Preddy quickly became enthralled with the gaming industry and landed a job as a keno writer at the Cotton Club. Not long after moving to Las Vegas, her husband was offered a job in Hawthorne, Nevada and they needed to move up north.
Fortunately for Sarann, a casino was up for sale in Hawthorne; and with the help of her father in 1951, she was able to purchase the property and become the first black woman to earn a gaming license in the state of Nevada. Though this was a special achievement for a woman at the time, it was also one of the first, pivotal moments in which she was able to create a comfortable space for African Americans to gather. And for the next seven years, she did just that.
After successfully running her own casino, she eventually moved back to Las Vegas where she worked as a dealer. Sadly, her achievements did not come without hardship and a city ordinance was passed that banned female dealers. Once she was forced out of her role, she continued with her business savvy ideas by running both a dry-cleaning business and a dress shop. There was something, however, that kept her from giving up on her passion for the gaming industry and she eventually sold both of her businesses to purchase the Playhouse Lounge. Unfortunately, solely due to the color of her skin, she was unable to obtain the gaming license required and was forced to sell.
She partnered with the NAACP to fight back on the rule that a nonwhite female could not deal at the Las Vegas Strip casinos. Together, they convinced Jerry’s Nugget to hire her on a six-month trial to prove that she was fully qualified for the job. She was able to effortlessly prove her own acumen and worked there unbothered for the next seven years.
After leaving Jerry’s Nugget, Preddy ran for a commissioner’s seat on the Las Vegas City Council in 1979. She became the first Black woman to win a primary, however, ended up losing by a very close margin in a fiercely competitive final vote. She made it her mission to help restore the Westside. She also played a crucial role in trying to revive the Moulin Rouge, which was Las Vegas’ first racially-integrated hotel and casino. And finally, in 1992 after years of campaigning with her husband and son, she was able to get Moulin Rouge placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2014, the year she passed, she published an autobiography called 72 Years in Las Vegas. She undoubtedly lived a life of great meaning and stayed strong in her advocacy until her dying day.