Elmer Rusco

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Elmer Rusco sought to serve the people of Northern Nevada through both scholarship and community activism. As a scholar, he created a foundational body of work on the historical experience of ethnic minorities in Nevada. As an activist, he devoted himself to a number of social justice causes and organizations, including the Nevada branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization he led through much of the 1970s.   Rusco was born in Haviland, Kansas in 1928, and his early life was shaped by an extended family committed to both education and civic responsibility. Both of his parents were schoolteachers, and several other family members worked in public education. In addition, his uncle modeled civic responsibility for young Rusco by serving on the local school board for forty-five years and in the state legislature for twenty-two years.   Two formative experiences shaped Rusco immediately after high school. First, he was exposed to the broad diversity of humanity while traveling through the Middle East and a devastated postwar Europe. At about the same time, on a bus trip through Virginia, Rusco inadvertently sat next to an African-American passenger. Obeying the segregation customs, the passenger rose and went to stand in the rear section of the bus. This firsthand experience with the demeaning system of racial segregation was, in Rusco’s words, “a shock to my system.” As a result, he became involved in the local Congress of Racial Equality group (CORE) and participated in several unsuccessful sit-ins at segregated theaters and restaurants in the Lawrence, Kansas area while attending the University of Kansas. This was the first step in a lifelong interest in the causes of civil rights and racial justice.

John Reid

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