St. Louis County NAACP objects to Missouri travel advisory; others say it’s useful

Three views on NAACP advisory on travel in Missouri

The national civil rights group's warning to African Americans visiting Missouri spurred talk in the 18th and Vine District of safety and the impact on the tourism economy.
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The national civil rights group's warning to African Americans visiting Missouri spurred talk in the 18th and Vine District of safety and the impact on the tourism economy.

Concerned that an NAACP travel advisory might jeopardize tourism-related jobs in Missouri, the St. Louis County branch of the civil rights group is pushing back.

“The people hurt by the travel advisory are the members of the NAACP community who work across our state in hospitality industry jobs,” county branch president Esther Haywood said in a press release.

National delegates approved the advisory on Wednesday, urging black Missourians and visitors to the state “to pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling.” The advisory made specific reference to state Senate Bill 43, a recently enacted Missouri law that will make employment discrimination suits much more difficult to win. It goes into effect Aug. 28.

Haywood said the St. Louis County NAACP opposes the law but that people whose jobs depend on travelers’ business had nothing to do with its passage. Also, she said, Missouri’s new standards for judging discrimination cases are in place in 38 other states.

“We suggest that if the NAACP does not rescind their advisory immediately, then they should add to it the other 38 states,” she said.

The national organization’s action — backed the Missouri NAACP — was the first-ever travel advisory issued for any state, officials said.

The Kansas City branch president, Rev. Rodney Williams, said Friday that he remained strongly supportive of the travel advisory.

“With every movement you’ll always have different opinions,” said Williams. “We have to stand up against this blatant rejection of equal protection under the law in the state of Missouri.”

Besides its condemnation of Senate Bill 43, the NAACP cited as “simply unacceptable” that African-Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely than whites to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers.

For the first time, the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a state, warning travelers and residents about possible discrimination and racist attacks. The Missouri NAACP circulated the advisory in June, and it was adopted by national delegates

Among thousands of motorcyclists visiting this week — riding in the National Bikers Roundup, organized by black motorcycle clubs — Willie Davis Jr. said the heads-up on traffic pullovers was good to know. He said his trip across Missouri from North Carolina was problem-free.

“I usually ride at the speed limit plus 5, and the police will accept that,” said Davis, still riding cross-country at age 82.

Art McCall, president of the Newark Knights Motorcycle Club in New Jersey, said the advisory is helpful to African-Americans such as himself who are unaware of events in faraway states.

“They may not know if deep-seated problems exist in Missouri,” said McCall. And if the new law on discrimination suits makes it easier for employers to mistreat workers for reasons of race, he said, NAACP pressure should be applied: “When there is wrong, you got to hit people in the pocket.”

The annual National Bikers Roundup, which originated in Kansas City, returns to the area every 10 years. Billed as the “largest camping motorcycle rally in the USA,” this year’s gathering revved up before the travel advisory was voted upon.

While the advisory was a hot topic of conversation among the riders, some said they noticed little effect on turnout or the members’ activities in the Kansas City area.

“People here have been treating me fine,” said David Rountree, of Orlando, Fla, “just like anyone else.”

In a statement issued Friday, the tourism organization Visit KC said the region “welcomes visitors from all walks of life regardless of race, background, preferences or experiences.

“… Kansas City stands behind its diversity and proudly extends an open invitation for all to come experience it.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r