Dr. Charles I. West: The First Black Medical Doctor in Las Vegas


Doctor; Civil Rights Activist; Publisher


Working as a medical doctor can be satisfying. Being involved in challenging diagnoses, assisting patients in handling and overcoming devastating diseases and conditions, and reassuring bereaved families are all fulfilling emotional experiences. According to the late Sun publisher, Dr. West focused on the body’s well-being and reprogramming the mind and soul. In the early 1950s, he worked hard to transform the political, social, and spiritual scenarios in Southern Nevada.

Family History

Dr. West, the first African American doctor to be licensed by Nevada state, was born on September 27, 1908, in Washington, D.C. Dr. West had a distinguished history. He was the son of Dr. Charles and Rebekah West. His other siblings were John, twin sisters, Charlotte and Elizabeth, and Charles, Jr.

Education and Career

Charles I. West attended the Williston boys Academy in East Hampton, Massachusetts. He later joined Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In 1933, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University School of Medicine.

He went through an internship program at Kansas City General Hospital, Missouri. He pursued further studies at the London Tropical School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School.

In Liberia, West Africa, Dr. West, with the help of his brother John, set up a hospital and the first nursing school.

Marriage Life

When Dr. West returned to Detroit, Michigan, he started a private practice. He married Dorothy Seaman (Dottie), and they bore two sons, John and Rocci.

In 1954, Dr. West’s friend Count Basie suggested he move his family to Las Vegas, and so he did.

Other Accomplishments

Dr. West served as a field surgeon in France during World War II. He became a pioneer in doing the Nevada State Board of Medicine Examination among African Americans.

He was the first African American surgeon of Southern Nevada Medical Center. Dr. West worked as a Rancho High School team physician for ten years.

Dr. West restored the Nevada Voters’ League, after which he became its president. He urged Dr. James McMillan to become the first Black dentist in Las Vegas. Dr. West, Bailey, and McMillan were the front-runners to show the Black leadership at the core of the local civil rights movement.

Dr. West helped advance the Moulin Rouge agreement of 1960. This agreement was geared towards integrating casinos on the Strip. Together with his son John and Alice Key (Journalist and TV Personality), they established the African American community’s Las Vegas Voice.

Honors and Awards

Dr. West received remarkable appointments and acknowledgments. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to UNICEF.

He was also appointed to the Governor’s Medical Advisory Board of the Aging. The National Conference of Christians and Jews honored Dr. West for encouraging harmony in the era of segregation.

Dr. West’s peers established A Medical Society in his honor. In appreciation for exceptional Community Service, Dr. West received a Nevada Centennial Year Certificate of Appreciation and Gratitude in 1964.

His sacrifice to serve the City of Las Vegas attracted recognition by The American Academy of General Practice; Southern Nevada Human Relations Committee; Odd Fellows and Rebekah of Canada and U.S.; Nevada Athletic Commission’s Medical Advisory Board; NAACP Las Vegas Branch; and the Urban Renewal Agency.

In 1978, he became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and joined the Beta Eta Theta Chapter of Gamma Phi Delta Sorority.

After the death of Dr. West, the Clark County School District, Nevada, named Charles I. West Middle School in his honor. They established West Preparatory Academy at Charles I. West Hall.

The Death of a Champion

Charles I. West died in 1984. Until his death, his life as a practicing physician was rewarding. He had academic credits, excellent medical background, and outstanding war records.

He contributed to the rapid economic and political expansion of the Las Vegas Black community during the 1950s.

Amidst prejudiced and segregated practices in Las Vegas, Dr. West’s quest for equality manifested in his civil rights activities. He became the political activist, the pride, and the voice of the Black community. 


The Black Male Archives


  1. Charles I. West
  2. Dr. Charles West: Las Vegas’ First African-American Doctor
  3. Dr. Charles West’s death a loss for Southern Nevada


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