Making history: Carson City 1961
WE STAND ON HIS SHOULDERS
Eddie Scott advocated for civil rights in an era when such talk could get you killed.
The legendary Nevada civil rights leader passed away from cancer in Seattle, Washington, on May 21, 2017. He was 88.
"He was acting while everybody was thinking," Reno-Sparks NAACP matriarch Dolores Feemster remembers.
"Wherever there was a problem when other people were saying 'someone should do something,' Eddie would actually go out and try to resolve it. His legacy is one of civil rights," she added.
Scott came to Nevada in 1950 when citizens of the state known as Mississippi West lived in de facto apartheid. Businesses large and small displayed signs saying that no "colored trade" was allowed.
He found employment at the Sierra Army Depot in Herlong, Calif., which generated his first foray into a lifetime of civil rights work.
"His request for housing outside of the race ghetto at the base section was refused. He was not an activist then, just a young man with a family wanting the same access to housing the white men had. Three times he was offered a house in the 'black area,' three times he refused," wrote UNR Professors Dr. Mary White Stewart and Dr. Jim Richardson in nominating Scott for a University of Nevada Distinguished Nevadan Award.
"Threatened with being 'thrown out the gate,' he and the fledgling NAACP in Herlong filed a complaint with the NAACP regional office asking for intervention at the federal level. This not only resulted in housing for Scott and his family but in the removal of the housing officer and the commanding officer of the base," the nomination continued.
He continued his activism when he returned to Reno and served as president of NAACP Reno-Sparks Branch No. 1112 in 1961-64 and again in 1967-68.
In his first year, he sent a wire to President John F. Kennedy and Nevadas congressional delegation: Discrimination general in housing, employment and public accommodations. Economy Negroes Nevada depressed. Pending civil rights legislation receiving negligible support. Leadership lacking espouse; caused FHA discrimination everywhere. Negro service men suffering. Seventy percent relegated substandard rentals. Urge you use moral force assist sponsors.
Also in 1961, Scott and the late civil rights legend Bertha Woodard demonstrated in front of Reno gambling establishments with signs reading "We want to be first class citizens" and "Gamblers order Negro slavery."
Eddie displays some of his greatest hits.*
other African American leaders like Charles Kellar and Bertha Woodard, he worked
with Gov. Grant Sawyer to win enactment of equal rights legislation in the Nevada
Legislature," veteran Nevada journalist Dennis Myers wrote in memorializing
Eddie Scott lobbied so hard that he became known as Bulldog Eddie, historian Michael Green has observed.
"Scott led the push for a Nevada Equal Rights bill in 1961," Professors Stewart and Richardson continued.
"The NAACP took to the streets, marching, picketing, staging sit-ins and pressuring legislators in every possible way. Scott's powerful commitment to equal rights kept the equal rights bill at the center of the legislative agenda during that session, and convinced casino owners that ongoing and disruptive picketing would create an even worse public image for gambling and for Reno than they already had across the nation." (Photos at RenoSparksNAACP.org/)
"A southern legislator finally agreed to introduce the bill after much lobbying by the NAACP leadership, but it was withdrawn at the last minute and was virtually dead for that legislative session. Angered by this rejection, the NAACP led dramatic sit-ins, picketing in Reno and Carson City, and insisting they would continue these activities until the next legislative session, gaining the attention of the regional and national press. Ultimately, an agreement was reached to reintroduce the bill as an emergency measure at the last minute of the legislative session if the picketing and sit-ins would stop. The bill immediately passed both houses and was on Governor Grant Sawyers desk within days.
"The bill established the Equal Rights Commission and provided for an extensive study of the civil rights of black citizens in Nevada. However, it took three more years of effort, working with citizens, Renos business community, the legislature and with NAACP branches in Tonopah and Las Vegas and finally more picketing and sit-ins to get the bill funded in 1963. Overcoming efforts on the part of legislators to weaken the bill and cripple its intent, Scott, now the political lobbyist for the NAACP, led the persistent push to keep the bill alive and strong," Stewart and Richardson wrote.
Longtime State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas (1972-2004), remembers him well.
"Eddie Scott was one of those individuals who was a connecting voice on the issues of black people from southern Nevada to northern Nevada," Neal said when informed of Scott's death.
"He supported my efforts in the legislature and let me know I had support in the north. He was always willing to support southern Nevada issues. He spoke loudly and clearly," Neal added.
"I once made a speech against legislation which opposed busing of students, noting that 'it was not about the bus, it was about us,' " Neal recalled.
Scott told Neal that it was the first time such a speech had been made in the Nevada Legislature. Helped by Scott's advocacy, the remarks made news nationwide.
Scott led a caravan to DC to participate in the legendary 1963 March on Washington. The travelers met with Nevada's congressional delegation and galvanized action to establish a local food program.
Scott's multi-ethnic Nevada volunteers took part in freedom rider demonstrations on the way to DC and on the way back in towns large and small. About 20 locals slept on the floor of a black church in Selma, Alabama, where a seamstress named Rosa Parks brought food to feed the travelers.
Scott worked as a porter for United Airlines in Reno and as a meter reader for the former Sierra Pacific Power Company (now NVEnergy).
His advocacy never paused after winning at the legislature.
Stewart and Richardson noted that "he spearheaded the founding of the Race Relations Center in Reno, started by a small grant from Maya Miller, which protected the rights of citizens in the areas of housing, employment and consumer rights. He served as its director for the next twelve years. His considerable interpersonal skills and ability to work with a wide range of people, from city and county managers to casino owners and small businesses, allowed him to solve problems informally as well as to rely on formal channels when necessary.
"He worked with employers who had no black employees to create jobs and to fill them with people, white and black, who were mistreated by property owners, businesses and professionals, resolving financial and civil disputes. The Race Relations Center was viewed as the clearinghouse for complaints of discrimination and injustice in Washoe County and was the dominant force in social justice efforts for over a decade," the nominating document continued.
"In addition to these major accomplishments that contributed significantly to the improvement of the social and political climate in Nevada, Mr. Scott served on what was then called the State Mental Health and Retardation Board which oversaw all areas of mental health in Nevada, from hiring to oversight of the state mental hospital, for sixteen years," Stewart and Richardson stated.
"A story is told of the board hearing a plea from disadvantaged Las Vegas citizens who had been prohibited from using the office phone there to call family members who were patients at the state mental hospital in Reno. Finally, the citizens picketed the Board and when the Board took a break, discussing where to go for lunch, Eddie said, 'you all go on without me, Ill be picketing outside,' the professors related.
"The strain of fundraising and the Centers work took their toll on Scott," journalist Dennis Myers wrote in the Reno News & Review. (31 May 2017)
"Elizabeth Gower Woodard, Scotts aide at the Center, said he kept the Center going 'on a slim budget. He got small grants here and there, like the one from Maya Miller, and small donations,' " Myers reported.
" ' We tried to help everyone who called or came through our door, ' " she said, adding " 'Mr. Scott was brilliant in finding partners to help people, many of whom had been denied help from agencies specifically designed to help them. It was maddening sometimes, but Mr. Scott just carried on with a quiet dignity.' "
In addition to everything else, he hosted a radio program on KOLO 92-am, served for many years on the Regional Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was a member of the Washoe County Grand Jury for four years during the same period.
"It is difficult for those who did not live in Nevada before the seventies to imagine the degree of race discrimination that existed and the degree of animosity to change," Stewart and Richardson stated.
"Eddie Scott had the personal characteristics to lead the fight to overcome the considerable resistance and to persevere during a very long and hard-fought campaign. After the formal achievement of an equal rights bill, he was convinced that someone had to be a watchdog, to implement the changes, and to make sure the community changed its practices, so he remained immersed in the efforts for the next several decades.
"He never sought the spotlight, was inclusive and cooperative, and was as happy to work behind the scenes as he was to be in the front of the picket line. His good nature and easy manner were accompanied by a steely resolve to fight for the rights of those who were not equipped to fight for themselves and to lead those who were prepared to join the fight," they concluded.
On May 7, 1998, the Reno-Sparks NAACP honored Scott and Sen. Neal with lifetime achievement awards. In 2015, the Reno-Sparks NAACP named its Human Rights Advocacy Award for Scott and the late Bertha Woodard. On June 18, 2015, Scott was honored with the Distinguished Nevadan Award by the Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education. His name is engraved on a pillar at the UNR Honor Court. (Photos at RenoSparksNAACP.org/)
On March 24, 2016, on the occasion of its 20th Anniversary, Our Story, Inc., held a gala at The Grove restaurant in southwest Reno. Mr. Scott was celebrated as one of the heroes of the African-American experience in Northern Nevada.
Eddie Bennie Scott was born to Alfred Scott, Jr., and the former Luberda Charleston on June 19, 1928, in Delhi , Franklin Parish, Louisiana.
He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Katie M. Cooper; a son, Eddie B. Scott, Jr.; his parents, two sisters, four brothers and one grandchild.
He is survived by his sister Annie Bell Braxton, brother, James Scott, and daughters Mary Vaughn (Leroy) of Los Angeles and Monique Scott of Hayward, California.
He is also survived by sons, Benn Scott (Tamara) of Monroe, Louisiana; Alfred Scott (Vivian) of Sacramento, California; Therman Scott of Sedalia, Missouri; Spencer Scott (Bongi) of Wadsworth, Nevada; and niece Pat Esters of Sparks, Nevada.
He is further survived by 13 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives throughout the country.
Rev. William C. Webb will conduct Scott's memorial service at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, June 30, 2017, at Reno's Second Baptist Church, 1265 Montello Street. A reception will be held at the church immediately thereafter. Private inurnment will be conducted at Mountain View, 435 Stoker, Reno, NV 89503.
A donation "In Kind to Eddie Scott Memorial Fund" may be made in person at any branch of Wells Fargo Bank.
Other financial contributions may be sent to Eddie Scott Memorial, P.O. Box 141, Swartz, LA 71281; payable to the order of Monique Scott.
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NAACP Reno-Sparks Branch No. 1112