Relocation of migrants by Republican governors brings back painful memories of ‘Reverse Freedom Rides’

As news of the move spread, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library quickly drew historical parallels with the Reverse Freedom Rides during the Kennedy administration.

In 1962, a group of conservatives, determined to fight back against desegregation efforts during the civil rights movement, funded one-way tickets north for black citizens.

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 the port of Hyannis – a village on the Cape Cod peninsula – where the largest group of runners arrived in the spring of 1962 before being given temporary accommodation at Camp Edwards near the base of the Otis Air National Guard.

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 attracted by job subsidies and immigration assistance

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 labor assistance and Boston immigration assistance,” wrote the group Lawyers for Civil Rights in a press release.

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.

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.”

The Presidential Library draws historical parallels

Representatives from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library pointed to the similarities in 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”,

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 life and misery, their attitude will undoubtedly change,” reads a letter published by the Library, which referred to segregationists in the South.

Reverse Freedom Rides designed by segregationists

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 strategy of the White Citizens’ Council 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 white Southerners.” 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, citing one of the ads.

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. .

Martha’s Vineyard rushes to help migrants

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 jobs and “escape the horrors of living under such an oppressive regime as Jim was. Crow,” Parker added.

A Venezuelan migrant reacts as he is taken on a bus to St. Andrews Episcopal Church on September 16, 2022, in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

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.

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 of it that bring us joy and pride, as well as the aspects of it that put us to shame,” Sullivan said.

CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Jason Hanna, Kristina Sgueglia, Miguel Marquez and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.

. relocation of migrants by the governors republicans recalls the painful memories of the Reverse Freedom Rides

. Relocation migrants Republican governors brings painful memories Reverse Freedom Rides

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