Wells Fargo mural celebrates groundbreaking African American journalist
Roosevelt Toston, the first African American news reporter and anchor in Las Vegas, is among those reconnecting with the past to inspire the present through the Wells Fargo Community Mural Program.
Like a miner’s pick accidentally striking gold, a Wells Fargo bank remodel brought more than expected.
The mural installed during the renovation retells African American history in Las Vegas, sparking community pride and personally inspiring Wells Fargo Home Lending Diverse Segments Market Consultant Darius Toston to redouble efforts to help more African American residents experience homeownership and address the housing affordability crisis.
As he stood in Wells Fargo’s West Owens branch admiring the public artwork for the first time, someone from his own family looked back from its imagery: his uncle Roosevelt.
“I had always heard great things about my family, but, in that moment standing there in front of the mural, a newly inspired sense of pride and awareness set in about our heritage of achievement and my responsibility to continue this legacy through my own life and work in the community for Wells Fargo.” — Darius Toston
The mural includes a photo of Roosevelt Toston shooting a news story in 1973 as a reporter for KLAS-TV — where he became the city and state’s first African American news anchor.
In 1970, he became the city’s first African American news reporter at NBC affiliate KORK-TV (now KSNV).
“Not long after I moved to Las Vegas to attend college, I remember talking to an elderly man who had lived in the city for decades,” said Darius Toston, who works to increase access to housing for the underserved. Since 2018, Wells Fargo has loaned $85 million in greater Las Vegas — among the communities he serves — to help more than 370 African American families purchase or refinance homes.
“When he heard my last name he said, ‘You come from good stock, young man. Be proud of your family and the name you carry.’”
Darius Toston said the mural brought those words back in a flash and reminded him that Roosevelt Toston’s viewers weren’t just watching the news. They were celebrating the history he made while reporting it.
“I had always heard great things about my family,” he said, “but in that moment, standing there in front of the mural, a newly inspired sense of pride and awareness set in about our heritage of achievement and my responsibility to continue this legacy through my own life and work in the community for Wells Fargo.”
One of more than 2,450 murals installed in Wells Fargo branches nationwide as part of Wells Fargo’s Community Mural Program, the West Owens branch mural features African American pioneers and places celebrated in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Libraries project, “Documenting the African American Experience in Las Vegas.”
Along with Roosevelt Toston, the mural also features Theron Goynes — a U.S. Air Force veteran, educator, and longtime North Las Vegas city council member who was the first elected African American person to lead a government body as mayor pro tem — as well as local civil rights workers, the Carver House Hotel, and the historic Moulin Rouge Hotel and Casino, the city’s first integrated casino.
A desire to be the best
Born the seventh of eight children and son of a cotton sharecropper in Epps, Louisiana, Roosevelt Toston traveled across the country to Las Vegas for the first time in 1959.
“My brother invited me to work at the hotel where he worked and was making $9 an hour,” he said. “If I had stayed chopping cotton, I’d have been making $3 a day.”
He never returned to Louisiana.
After finishing his last two years at Las Vegas High School, in the same westside community the West Owens branch team serves today, Roosevelt Toston took a correspondence course in communications.
“At the time, I was excited just to be on television and I wasn’t thinking about the history that I was making. I just wanted to do the best job that I could.” — Roosevelt Toston
When KORK-TV advertised for a news reporter in a newspaper, he applied despite having no experience; however, his communication skills and pluck during the audition carried the day.
“I was determined that I was going to make it in this new field,” he said. So were others like Murray Westgate, the news director at KLAS-TV who made him an anchor, and the people he saw at church, the barbershop, and grocery store who cheered him on as one of their own.
“They would tell me how pleased they were to see me on air, and ask me how it happened,” he said. “At the time, I was excited just to be on television, and I wasn’t thinking about the history that I was making. I just wanted to do the best job that I could.”
‘Care about people’
Roosevelt Toston took the same attitude to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority in 1975. In search of better pay and opportunity to support his family, he again applied for a job he’d never done. He convinced the director of Marketing, Tourism, and Advertising to hire him as the city’s pitchman.
Until his retirement in 2004, Roosevelt Toston traveled the world extolling Las Vegas’ virtues to tourists and conference planners.
As for the kind of life and legacy that wins awards, brings acclaim, and lands someone on a mural, he said the success formula is simple.
“Genuinely like and care about people, and be willing to step out of your comfort zone to try new things,” he said. “Be persistent, have self-confidence, and don’t listen to the doubters. Regardless of the situation, know your audience and who you are speaking and selling to, and perfect your ability to be an effective communicator.”
He’s pleased to see Wells Fargo reflecting those same values by doing something unique in the banking world — creating murals that celebrate the customers and communities the bank serves, and reflect the contributions of its own team members.
“For this to happen to a bank that I do business with I think is fantastic,” he said about the mural, which he first learned about from a photo his daughter took.
Point of pride
Fanny Fernandez, who manages the West Owens location and nine other branches, said customers and visitors have snapped and sent their own pictures of the mural.
The Goynes family and many others have come by to see the mural, and its artwork and story led Wells Fargo’s local Black/African American Connection Team Member Network chapter to invite Roosevelt Toston to share his story, she said.
“Our customers and team members can look at the mural and see themselves represented in the story of where Las Vegas was, where it has gone, where it is today, and the future we’re all helping move it toward,” Fernandez said. “These murals are another way to take pride in our communities and show people we’re supporting them in everything they do.”
While the mural brought back many memories of his news days, Roosevelt Toston thinks its promise is in the present — inspiring those who see it to press on and add their own chapters to the Las Vegas story.
“I just hope that others will see this and be inspired and know that they can achieve what they want in life if they persevere and do the kinds of things I had to do to be included,” he said.