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Ralph Denton, ‘liberal conscience of Nevada,’ remembered

Reported by: Tom Hawley

Reported by: Jerry Brown
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Updated: 7/13/2012 6:38 pm
An important figure in the development of southern Nevada will be laid to rest tomorrow. News 3's Tom Hawley has a look back at the life of Ralph Denton. On Friday he was laid to rest and News 3's Jerry Brown attended the services.

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Ralph Denton, a longtime Las Vegas attorney who earned a reputation as the "liberal conscience of Nevada," has died. He was 86.

Denton died of cancer July 6 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, 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. 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."

Denton moved to Las Vegas to practice law in 1955, and 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.

Survivors include his wife, Sara; daughter Sally; and sons Mark and Scott. Sally is the author of seven books, Mark Denton is a Clark County district judge, and Scott Denton is a doctor.

Services for the Caliente native will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Guardian Angel Cathedral in Las Vegas.
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