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Lawyer fought Jim Crow in Vegas

Las Vegas lawyer Ralph Denton

Las Vegas lawyer Ralph Denton

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Updated: August 12, 2012 6:42AM

LAS VEGAS — Ralph Denton, a longtime Las Vegas attorney who earned a reputation as the “liberal conscience of Nevada,” has died. He was 86.

Mr. Denton died of cancer Friday night at his Boulder City home, family members said.

He was an outspoken civil rights advocate who played a key role in the struggle to end segregation at Las Vegas Strip resorts in the 1950s.

At the time, Jim Crow-type policies had earned Nevada a nickname as the “Mississippi of the West,” and he was one of the few Las Vegas attorneys who took cases for the American Civil Liberties Union.

A force in the local Democratic Party, Mr. Denton worked closely with black leaders in Las Vegas to improve conditions for minorities and hired the first black legal secretary in the city.

“Ralph was a classic concerned citizen,” Michael Green, history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, told the Las Vegas Sun.

“He got involved in issues that mattered to him and to the rest of us,” Green said. “He didn’t do it to be elected to some office or to get rich from it. He did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Mr. Denton moved to Las Vegas to practice law in 1955.

He played a key role in the first of Grant Sawyer’s two successful gubernatorial campaigns in 1958.

He served as district attorney for Esmeralda County and a Clark County commissioner.

In 1964 and 1966, he narrowly lost primary races against Rep. Walter Baring, a conservative Democrat who opposed civil rights.


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