The relocation of about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, initiated this week by the governor of Florida, has revived memories of startlingly similar tactics employed by Southern segregationists 60 years ago.
In 1962, a group of conservatives, determined to retaliate against desegregation efforts during the civil rights movement, funded one-way trips north for black citizens, in what they called “Reverse Freedom Rides”.
Hundreds of black Americans were transported to cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, recruited by members of a segregationist group called the White Citizens’ Council, with false promises of jobs and housing.
One of the destination points targeted was Hyannis Port – a village on the Cape Cod peninsula – where the largest group of runners arrived in the spring of 1962 before being given temporary housing at Camp Edwards near the National Guard base. aerial of Otis.
In what many have condemned as the same tactic, the group of migrants sent by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to Martha’s Vineyard this week ultimately had to be transported to the same military base on Cape Cod to receive shelter and humanitarian support.
“The Reverse Freedom Rides are not well known to many people, and it is important to understand that this tactic of using people as political pawns was used 60 years ago by segregationists and white supremacists,” explained Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston branch.
“It’s important for us to amplify and highlight that parallel, so people can see that this kind of racist behavior and racist tactics are still being used today,” she added.
Migrants on Wednesday’s planes were unaware they were being specifically taken to Martha’s Vineyard and were enticed to board planes with “representations of job assistance and Boston immigration assistance,” wrote the group Lawyers for Civil Rights in a press release.
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Although DeSantis confirmed he had organized the flights, the migrants were in Texas, not Florida. For months, DeSantis has been talking about his plans to involve Florida in redirecting migrants from the southern border in a way that maximizes heartburn for Democratic leaders.
His administration secured $12 million from the state budget to pay for the resettlement of migrants, and he repeatedly threatened to use the money to send them to liberal strongholds. Martha’s Vineyard was not expecting the group, and the decision was strongly denounced by the White House, migrant advocates and Democratic officials. DeSantis has also been criticized by officials and citizens in his own state for using Florida taxpayer money for this purpose.
DeSantis’ decision is part of a series of actions by Republican governors, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, to ferry migrants to northern liberal cities and so-called blue states to protest government policies. Biden administration on the southern border.
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The two governors have been frequent antagonists of President Joe Biden on immigration and his policies relating to the southern border since taking office. Biden, attacking the tactics of governors, accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings” and “using them as props.”
Representatives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library were quick to draw historical parallels between the escalating battle between the Red heads of state and the Biden administration over the US-Mexico border and the revival of Reverse Freedom Rides , a parody of the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1961.
“To embarrass northern liberals and humiliate black people, Southern White Citizens’ Councils launched their so-called ‘Reverse Freedom Rides’, giving black people one-way tickets to northern cities with bogus promises of jobs , housing and better lives”, the Library recounted in a tweet.
At the time, President John F. Kennedy’s administration was receiving mail from the leaders of the targeted states, asking the federal government to intervene in the “cruel and ruthless hoax” orchestrated by the segregationists.
“If they pay the price for their traffic in human lives and misery, their attitude will undoubtedly change,” reads a letter published by the Library, which referred to segregationists in the South.
The Reverse Freedom Rides were engineered by the White Citizens’ Council, at one time “the most powerful political force organized against racial integration”, wrote historian Clive Webb, a professor at the University of Sussex in England. , in an academic article on the Reverse Freedom Rides published in 2004.
The rides, Webb wrote, were used to restore some of the political power of the White Citizens’ Council and were formed in part as a reaction to white businessmen, civic leaders and parents who as total opposition to desegregation would harm their communities.
The White Citizens’ Council’s strategy was to use the Reverse Freedom Rides “as a public relations exercise that would both politically embarrass their northern liberal critics and thereby restore their support among southern whites”. Northern politicians and newspapers condemned the rides, calling them cruel and inhumane.
According to the article, members of the White Citizens’ Council of New Orleans and Little Rock, Arkansas, were instrumental in organizing the rides. The campaign was first launched by George Singelmann, who recruited black families through advertisements promising “free transportation plus $5.00 for the expenses of any Negro man or woman, or family (without size limit) who wish to migrate to the national capital or any city”. in the north of their choice,” Webb wrote, quoting one of the advertisements.
Members of the White Citizens’ Council also recruited from prisons and advertised their “services” to the NAACP. The group promised to help black families find jobs and, in other cases, guaranteed jobs awaited them in their new towns, according to Webb’s research.
The White Citizens’ Council campaign continued until 1963 after support dwindled and funds ran out, according to the article.
“The cruellest aspect of the Citizens Council campaign is that it undermined the only means by which some impoverished African Americans could resist the oppression of their lives, a sense of hope,” Webb concluded. .
The suffering of black citizens who migrated north during the Reverse Freedom Rides “is most clearly illustrated” by the events in Hyannis, where 96 black Americans were sent over the course of several months, Webb wrote.
In 1965, all but one of the families remained in Hyannis after the Riders quickly discovered that the jobs they had been promised did not exist, according to his article.
The runners were placed on forced migration by the White Citizens Council and told they should contact the federal government, the NAACP or the National Urban League in an effort to ’embarrass’ President Kennedy, the official said. Dr. Traci Parker, professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts and expert on the civil rights movement.
“It’s all very similar. It makes you wonder what playbook DeSantis is playing in. Parker pointed out. “It’s really part of a story of bigots, white segregationists who want nothing to do with people of color.”
Another similarity is that many black families who left the South on Reverse Freedom Rides did so freely, believing they would find better employment and “escape the horrors of living under such an oppressive regime as Jim was. Crow,” Parker added.
But lessons learned from previous Reverse Freedom Rides have led the Martha’s Vineyard community to rush to welcome and assist displaced migrants as soon as they arrive, Parker pointed out.
Towns on the island, along with community and non-profit groups, have joined in the effort to offer assistance to migrants with donations and shelter, food and care, according to a Facebook post from the Dukes County government.
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The response from the Martha’s Vineyard community came as no surprise to those who have been actively involved in civil rights and human rights issues in Massachusetts, according to the NAACP’s Sullivan, as the island has always been open. and welcoming to newcomers.
“The parallels to the Reverse Freedom Rides are important to keep calling, not just to raise awareness, but to amplify the importance of remembering our collective history; the aspects that bring us joy and pride, as well as the aspects that put us to shame,” Sullivan said.