Lubertha Johnson was a fundamental contributor in the fight for racial equality in Las Vegas. She was an active member and leader in the Las Vegas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and fought to enact Nevada’s civil rights law. She was also active in several community service organizations and was the founder of Operation Independence, the Clark County’s first anti-poverty, self-help initiative.
She was born in 1906 on a farm in Mississippi and spent most of her early years living with her grandmother as her parents tried to get ahead. After race relations became extremely harsh in the south, the seventeen-year-old Johnson moved to Chicago with her family. There she attended the Chicago Music College. After high school, she enrolled in an all black school, Roger Williams University in Nashville, where she had planned to pursue a teaching career. The Depression of the 1930s forced Johnson to quit school and move back to Chicago in order to help support her family. In 1943, she moved to Las Vegas with her family where they purchased a chicken ranch.
Johnson began her work in Las Vegas as recreation director for the Carver Park Housing Project. In 1954, she became the first black nurse in Southern Nevada when she was hired, although reluctantly, at the Southern Nevada Hospital (now UMC).
Johnson’s greatest achievements in the state came with her activity in several community service organizations. In 1945 she became active with the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP and eventually served two separate terms as president of the organization. Her accomplishments with the NAACP included signing the Consent Decree to end employment discrimination, fighting for Nevada’s civil rights law and enacting open housing legislation. She was also a member of the Gamma Phi Delta Sorority, The National Conference and a board member of the Caliente School for Girls. Johnson founded Operation Independence, a program that created many significant changes in the West Las Vegas community, including the opening of child development centers, the first Head Start program, and the Manpower program. Operation Independence was also successful in receiving funds from the United Way of Southern Nevada; the first black non-profit in Southern Nevada to do so.
Lubertha Johnson continued working for equal rights in Nevada until her death on February 6, 1989 in a Las Vegas nursing home.
For further biographical information:
Lubertha Johnson: civil rights efforts in Las Vegas, 1940s- 1960s, an oral history interview with Lubertha Johnson conducted by Jamie Coughtry. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Oral History Project, 1988.
Photo courtesy of UNLV Special Collections.
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