ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A local branch of the NAACP says its national headquarters should rescind or amend a travel advisory urging caution while traveling through Missouri because the advisory could hurt African-American workers.
Officials with the St. Louis County NAACP issued a statement Thursday pushing back against the travel advisory, saying the measure could hurt the region’s economy and harm African-Americans working in the hospitality industry.
Meanwhile, the chapter’s counterpart in the city of St. Louis is standing behind the advisory.
The advisory cites a new state law, Senate Bill 43, that makes it more difficult to sue for housing and employment discrimination. The state NAACP fought for months against the legislation and introduced the advisory in June after the bill was signed into law.
The St. Louis County NAACP says it opposes the law and similar ones that it says are in place in 38 other states. But it says the travel advisory hurts African-American workers “who have played no role in this legislation.”
“We suggest that if the NAACP does not rescind their advisory immediately, then they should add to it the other 38 states, which all already have this standard for monitoring discrimination in place,” St. Louis County NAACP President Esther Haywood said in the statement.
Spokesman John Gaskin said the county branch hopes to bring together the NAACP and regional leaders to address issues raised in the advisory. Gaskin is on the NAACP national board.
“We certainly remain in opposition to the legislation and its infringement on the right of employees, but as a branch we serve and protect the rights of our constituents in our community, and so we are concerned about its economic impact on the African-American community,” he said. “We want to identify solutions to help move our region forward.”
National delegates on Wednesday voted to adopt the advisory, marking the first time the organization has issued a travel advisory for an entire state.
The advisory also cites a recent attorney general’s report showing black Missouri drivers last year were 75 percent more likely to be stopped by police than whites, among other events including the deaths of two men from India who were shot in a bar near Kansas City by a white man who apparently thought they were Muslim and the death of an African-American man from Mississippi in a rural Missouri jail hours after his car ran out of gas.
The St. Louis NAACP supports the advisory, which President Adolphus Pruitt said is intended not to warn people away from Missouri but to raise awareness of conditions for people of color in the state. Pruitt said affecting the hospitality industry is not the NAACP’s intent.
“Our position is that you should come to Missouri, but you should be aware,” he said. “The advisory is not asking anyone to cancel any trips, any plans of any sort they had to visit the state. The intent is to inform, and I hope it’s a wake-up call for the people in Missouri who have the ability to address these issues.”
Pruitt said his counterparts in St. Louis County are entitled their own opinion, but he said it is ironic to focus on the financial impact of the advisory to African-American workers while ignoring the impact of the state law on those same workers.
He said pointing out the law’s similarity to other states’ laws doesn’t counter a need to fight the law in Missouri.
“The fact that there may be one branch that has a difference of opinion, that’s absolutely fine,” he said. “I just hope that it is truly based on and grounded on the mission of the NAACP.”