The inspiration for the PBS documentary premiering March 2023
The story of the revolutionary Black women welfare organizers of Las Vegas who spearheaded an evergreen, radical revisioning of American economic justice
This timely reissue tells the little-known story of a pioneering group of Black mothers who built one of this country's most successful antipoverty programs.
In Storming Caesars Palace, Annelise Orleck brings into focus the hidden figures of a trailblazing movement who proved that poor mothers are the real experts on poverty, providing job training, libraries, medical access, daycare centers and housing to the poor in Las Vegas throughout the 1970s. Orleck introduces Ruby Duncan, a sharecropper turned White House advisor who led the charge on the long war on poverty waged against the poor Black mothers of Las Vegas. According to Ruby, “Poor women must dream their highest dreams and never stop,” and she, with the help of Mary Wesley and Alversa Beals, did exactly that.
A vivid retelling of an overlooked American history, Orleck follows the Black women who went on to lead a revolutionary movement against welfare injustice. These women eventually founded Operation Life, one of the first women-led community organizations in the nation and one of the country’s most successful antipoverty programs. They went on to gain national traction and garnered the respect of key political figures such as Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.
With a new prologue and epilogue that explore the race and labor movements paramount to the political climate of 2021, Orleck masterfully blends together history, social analysis, and personal storytelling in a story that is as enraging as it is empowering.
About the Author
Annelise Orleck is a professor at Dartmouth College where she focuses on history, American radicalism, race studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She is the author of several books, including: Rethinking American Women’s Activism; Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty; and Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working Class Politics in the U.S. She lives in Thetford Center, Vermont.
“Beautifully written . . . Annelise Orleck reminds us that those at the grassroots ‘can do it and do it better.’” —Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
“What a lovely book of hope! With grace and with rigor, Orleck presents the War on Poverty from the field and the vantage point of poor mothers.” —Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth
“A poignant counterpoint to the current culture of cynicism and despair. After reading Storming Caesars Palace, you’ll want to get up and do something to make the world a better place.” —Hagar Scher, Chicago Tribune
“This book has become the revolutionary ‘Bible’ for Las Vegas organizers. I’m so proud to stand on the shoulders of Ruby, Alversa, Mary, Emma, Rosie, and Essie.” —Minister Vance “Stretch” Sanders, director of Stretching for Change Foundation
“This amazing story is like a truly great novel, the revelation of a world unknown.” —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
“This stunning book gives new meaning to the notion of history from the bottom up.” —Alice Kessler-Harris, author of In Pursuit of Equity