The NAACP last week issued a Missouri travel advisory, warning travelers and residents about possible discrimination and attacks against minorities in the state.
The Missouri NAACP circulated a travel advisory in June, and the issue recently was taken up by the national organization — the first time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has issued an advisory for one state.
The Kansas City Star reports:
Missouri became the first because of recent legislation making discrimination lawsuits harder to win, and in response to longtime racial disparities in traffic enforcement and a spate of incidents cited as examples of harm coming to minority residents and visitors, say state NAACP leaders.
Those incidents included racial slurs against black students at the University of Missouri and the death earlier this year of 28-year-old Tory Sanders, a black man from Tennessee who took a wrong turn while traveling and died in a southeast Missouri jail even though he hadn’t been accused of a crime.
“How do you come to Missouri, run out of gas and find yourself dead in a jail cell when you haven’t broken any laws?” asked Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP.
“You have violations of civil rights that are happening to people. They’re being pulled over because of their skin color, they’re being beaten up or killed,” Chapel said. “We are hearing complaints at a rate we haven’t heard before.”
The St. Louis County NAACP, however, has urged the Missouri travel advisory be withdrawn or amended. The St. Louis-based chapter said the advisory could hurt African-American workers in the hospitality industry.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:
“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.”
The St. Louis chapter of the NAACP said it supports the advisory.
Support for the Missouri travel advisory among its chapters obviously is not unanimous. The national organization will vote in October on whether to ratify it.
The advisory comes at a time Route 66 organizations are trying to draw more minority tourists to the Mother Road. According to a Rutgers University study a few years ago, Route 66 travelers were 97 percent white and non-Hispanic — far higher than the U.S. racial breakdown of 13 percent being African-American, 17 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian-American and about 1 percent Native American.
Also, Native Americans and Hispanics play a significant role in the culture of the Southwest. Route 66’s story is their story as well.
And there are pockets of African-American and Asian-American populations in that boast a long history in larger cities along the Mother Road, too.
I was curious to know what Candacy Taylor thought of the Missouri travel advisory. She’s an African-American author who is researching the Negro Motorist Green Book published from the 1930s to the 1960s as a travel advisory for black motorists during the Jim Crow era. Her volume about the Green Book likely will be published in fall 2019 as part of a three-book deal. She also is in negotiations with the Smithsonian Institute for a Green Book traveling exhibit, starting in 2020.
When I talked to Taylor by phone, she was in the middle of field research for her book in the Pacific Northwest. She said she’d put 14,000 miles on her car in the last few months.
Taylor said she wasn’t surprised by the passage of Missouri’s discrimination bill. The senator who introduced it was the subject of a racial discrimination lawsuit himself. The new law, which goes into effect Aug. 28, raises the legal standard by which racial discrimination is found.
Taylor said much of American law has been tailored to benefit mostly white people, and the Missouri law is more of the same.
“It’s more evidence we’ve been heading in this direction for a long time, with both Democrats and Republicans in office,” Taylor said. “I’m glad the NAACP has made national news with this, and people are looking at race and law.
“It seems like what people have to do is prove there was intent behind the discrimination. That’s how our laws now work; it’s not unique to Missouri. It’s why every police officer who’s shot a man or woman gets off; you have to prove intent. There are plenty of white people who are wealthy who get the benefit of the doubt on their side. This law is in the DNA of society already.”
She said while racial discrimination occurs all over the country, the Missouri Ozarks region has a long and well-documented history of racism, citing Ku Klux Klan rallies held inside what now is Fantastic Caverns, near Springfield. She also noted the founding of the NAACP in 1909 was prompted by several high-profile lynchings, including a particularly grotesque one in downtown Springfield, Missouri, a few years before.
“My work with the Green Book has been really eye-opening,” Taylor said. “I have to remind people that even though we don’t have a Green Book anymore, for the most part, we still have a big problem with black mobility in this country. It is somewhat safer than it was 50, 60 years ago. I can check into a hotel and eat at a restaurant, when I couldn’t do that when there were Jim Crow laws. Driving from A to B is somewhat safer than it was years ago, so we’ve moved the needle in that regard.
“(Arrests for) driving while black still happen all over the country. It doesn’t happen just in St. Louis or Missouri. I think we need to take a look at the laws in all states, to see why this keeps happening.”
Taylor added she gets mistaken for Hispanic instead of black. She said she recently wanted to visit Vancouver, British Columbia, as she traveled in the Pacific Northwest for her research. She said she decided against it after once being detained for two hours and her car searched at the Canadian border because the border patrol thought she was of Mexican descent. She wasn’t eager to relive that experience again.
Taylor was asked what advice she would give to a black person who was considering a trip down Route 66. She replied that such advice isn’t necessary.
“I don’t have to give black people advice because black people already know what the stakes are,” she said. “I’m always concerned about getting pulled over and harassed. Being black or brown in this country, there are certain rules you have to abide by. You make sure you stop at every stop sign, and you don’t give the police a reason to pick you out.”
Taylor said the tiny percentage of black people exploring Route 66 shouldn’t be surprising, either. She said African-American people generally are less comfortable in rural areas — which make up long expanses of Route 66 — because their parents and grandparents told them about unpleasant experiences in such places during the Jim Crow era.
“The great American road trip is much different for the black experience than the white experience,” she said. “Rural areas historically have not been as welcoming to black people.”
So one is left wondering what to do to make Route 66 more attractive to minorities, other than basic hospitality.
One thing that comes to mind is businesses should refrain from displaying the Confederate flag. The flag remains a symbol of slavery for many Americans. No Route 66 state except Texas was a member of the Confederate States of America, so there’s little historical reason to display it along the route except for the occasional Civil War battlefield or grave marker of a Confederate soldier.
The “heritage pride” argument for displaying the rebel flag doesn’t hold water because the Confederate flag now flown doesn’t match the one used during the Civil War. Also, the Confederate flag didn’t make a widespread appearance in the South until the federal government began pressing for civil rights in the late 1940s — more than 80 years after the war.
The “American owned” signs in front of motels probably don’t help, either Proponents of those signs say it’s only a patriotic message, but in a great many cases it’s a signal the motel is not owned by an Asian-American. That’s a tacit slap in the face against reputable Asian-American motel operators such as Kumar Patel at the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California. If you’re a patriotic business owner on Route 66, displaying an American flag is more than good enough.
The two things above don’t seem like a lot, but they do provide first impressions. And a bad first impression may be all a person needs to leave Route 66 and continue their journey on the interstates.
Other suggestions to make minorities feel welcome on Route 66 are welcome.
(Image of a Missouri welcome sign by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr)