(LAS VEGAS, KXNT)–Las Vegas was not immune to the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960’s and 70’s. It played out at Rancho High School in the form of protracted racial strife, even riots.
A documentary film by Stan Armstrong–who attended Rancho at the time–is an oral history of the era, concentrating on 1971. Classmates from the era re-visit their experiences at Rancho in a film simply entitled The Rancho High School Riots. Its Armstrong’s third film in what he calls the Invisible Las Vegas trilogy.
In an interview with KXNT as he participated in a public discussion of the film, Armstrong said that Rancho High’s enrollment at the time was an ethnic melting pot. It consisted of many white and black students who were recent arrivals from the south. “Las Vegas then was kind of considered the Mississippi of the west.”, he said.
“Rancho had the kids from the Paiute reservation, West Las Vegas kids, all the kids from North Las Vegas who were Mormon. Most of the kids in my documentary consider themselves ‘hey we were working class–they would say it–white trash'”, said Armstrong. There were classmates from military families at Nellis Air Force Base.
Differences at the school reflected the racial divisions that were playing out around the nation. It led to violence at Rancho.
“Kids brought down a police helicopter. One kid died. A girl had her jaw broken. They were not just typical skirmishes, they were race riots.”
The film is airing on Clark County Television during February as part of Black History Month.
Armstrong said he never considered his experience at Rancho as a subject for a film. It was not until the class’s 40th reunion approached and a former girlfriend suggested to Armstrong that he document those times. “She said ‘no one would believe this'”.
Armstrong attended the reunion and approached ex-classmates. Some wanted nothing to do with the project, others questioned why Armstrong would want to re-open old wounds. But others eagerly pledged their help and participation.