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Ocean City officials pledge to include more blacks in resort advertisements


OCEAN CITY -- More blacks would "capture an ocean memory" if resort advertising included pictures of African-Americans, say local black leaders.

"Blacks are coming to Ocean City for vacation, but all you see in advertising is white, white, white," said James Purnell Jr., president of the Worcester County chapter of the NAACP.

Such advertising, which includes city-paid television commercials and brochures, sends a subtle message that minorities, particularly blacks, are not welcome, Mr. Purnell said.

Mr. Purnell and other leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met with Ocean City officials this week to discuss their concerns.

As a result, city officials have pledged to include more blacks in television commercials and in the city's glossy color brochure promoting the resort.

City Manager Dennis Dare said tourism officials did include a black woman in television commercials when NAACP leaders voiced similar concerns a few years ago.

"Their concern is that Ocean City is still not very inclusive of minorities, specifically African-Americans, in its advertising," Mr. Dare said.

The city, which has a $1 million advertising budget, produces one full-color, calendar-of-events brochure, and several informational fliers. The latter do not include pictures.

This year, the city has run television commercials promoting Ocean City as a vacation destination and as a golf resort.

The commercials have been aired in Washington, Baltimore and Pennsylvania.

"We really made a point to include blacks in commercial footage in our 1991 fall campaign and in our spring 1992 campaign," said Leslie A. Craigle, a tourism department spokeswoman.

While browsing through a slew of resort brochures, Ms. Craigle was hard pressed to find pictures of blacks at the beach, on the boardwalk, golfing, playing tennis or enjoying other resort amenities.

"This particular year, there are no blacks, no close-ups of blacks in the brochures," she said.

A reporter found no pictures of black vacationers in any of several color brochures picked up last week at the Ocean City Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Many brochures touting the resort are produced by the private sector or business-related groups, such as the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.

"The thrust is to sell Ocean City," Mr. Dare said of various brochures. "We are cognizant of [the NAACP's] concerns. We hope to lead by example."

Mr. Purnell said he hopes that private organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, would follow suit.

"It's probably too late for this summer season, but maybe something can be done for next summer," he said.

"Everyone knows it's something that has been neglected. . . . It's something we'll stay on top of."

Mr. Purnell estimated that about 10 percent of the resort's 4 million seasonal visitors are black.

About one-quarter of the seasonal work force is black as well, he said.

"The bottom line is that we want to let all people know they can come here on vacation," he said.

Al Jordan, owner of the recently opened Jordan's Rooftop restaurant and one of the few black business owners in the resort, noted that although Ocean City attracts some blacks, it doesn't draw nearly the minority crowd that Virginia Beach does. Why? Mr. Jordan said he couldn't explain it.

"It would be really tough for me to say it's because of the [advertising]," he said.

"I don't know that that affects it."

Alex FauntLeRoy, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said he was unaware of the NAACP's concerns.

"I'd hate to think that we were sending any kind of subtle message," he said about the lack of blacks in advertisements. "We welcome everyone -- blacks, Hispanics, people of all colors."

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