Relocating migrants by Republican governors brings back painful memories of the “Reverse Freedom Walks.”


In 1962, a group of conservatives, seeking to retaliate against desegregation efforts during the civil rights movement, funded one-way trips for black citizens to the North in what they called the “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 was Hyannis Port – a village on the Cape Cod Peninsula – where the largest group of cyclists arrived in the spring of 1962 before being given temporary housing at Camp Edwards near Otis Air National Guard Base.

“Reverse Freedom Rides are not popular with many people, and it’s important to understand that this tactic of using people as political pawns was used 60 years ago by segregationists and white supremacists,” said Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP Boston branch.

“It’s important for us to amplify and highlight that parallel, so that people can see that these racist behaviors and tactics are being used today,” he added.

Migrants attracted by job aid, immigration relief

Migrants on Wednesday’s planes did not know they were being taken specifically to Martha’s Vineyard, and were encouraged to board planes with “Boston job assistance and immigration assistance delegations,” the Civil Rights Lawyers group wrote in a press release.

Although DeSantis confirmed that he arranged the flights, the migrants were in Texas, not Florida. For months, DeSantis has been talking about his plans to divert migrants from the southern Florida border in a way that will maximize the heartburn of Democratic leaders.

His administration secured $12 million in state budgets to pay for migrant relocation, and has repeatedly threatened to use the money to send it to liberal strongholds. Martha’s Vineyard did not expect the group, and the decision was strongly criticized by the White House, migrant advocates and Democratic officials. DeSantis has also come under fire from public officials and citizens in his own state for using Florida taxpayer dollars to do just that.

DeSantis’ move is part of a series of moves by Republican governors, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, to transport migrants to liberal northern cities and so-called blue states to protest the Biden administration’s policies on the southern border.

Both governors have been frequent antagonists of President Joe Biden’s policies on immigration and the southern border since taking office. Biden, attacking the tactics of the governors, accused the Republicans of “playing politics with people” and “using them as props”.

The presidential library draws historical parallels

Representatives from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library drew a historical parallel between the escalation of fighting between red state leaders and the Biden administration on the US-Mexico border and the resurgence of the Reverse Freedom Rides, a parody of the Freedom Rides organized by Congress. Racial Equality (CORE) in 1961.

“To embarrass Northern liberals and humiliate Blacks, Southern White Citizens’ Councils began so-called ‘Reverse Freedom Rides,’ giving Blacks one-way tickets to northern cities with false promises of jobs, housing, and a better life.” The library said in a tweet.

At the time, he received a letter from state leaders led by President John F. Kennedy’s administration, asking the federal government to intervene in the “ruthless fraud” orchestrated by segregationists.

“If they pay the cost of their traffic in human life and misery, their attitude will doubtless change,” read a letter unearthed by the Library, referring to southern segregationists.

Segregationist-conceived Reverse Freedom Rides

Reverse Freedom Rides were created by the White Citizens’ Council, once “the most powerful political force organized against racial integration,” historian Clive Webb, a professor at the University of Sussex in England, wrote in an academic article. Reverse Freedom Rides published in 2004.

The marches, Webb wrote, were used to reclaim some of the political power of the White Citizens’ Council and were formed in part as a reaction from white business leaders, civic leaders, and parents. they saw that outright 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 simultaneously politically embarrass Northern liberal critics and thereby restore their support among Southern whites.” Northern politicians and newspapers condemned the tours as cruel and inhumane.

Review: DeSantis chose Martha's Vineyard for a reason

According to the article, members of the White Citizens’ Council in New Orleans and Little Rock, Arkansas were instrumental in organizing the walkouts. The campaign was first launched by George Singelmann, who recruited black families through advertisements promising “Free Transportation plus $5.00 Expenses for any black man or woman willing to migrate to the Nation’s Capital or any city (no size limit).” north of their choice,” Webb wrote, citing one of the ads.

White Citizens Council members were also recruited from prisons and advertised their “services” to the NAACP. The group promised to help black families find work and, in other cases, guaranteed jobs in new cities that awaited them, according to Webb’s research.

The White Citizens Council campaign continued until 1963 after aid dwindled and funding ran out, according to the article.

“The most cruel aspect of the Citizens’ Council campaign is that it undermined the only way some impoverished African-Americans could hold on to the oppression of their lives, a sense of hope,” Webb concluded.

Martha’s Vineyard is rushing to help the migrants

The suffering of black citizens who migrated north during the Reverse Freedom Rides is best illustrated by the events in Hyannis, where 96 black Americans were sent over several months, Webb wrote.

By 1965, all but one family had remained in Hyannis after the riders learned the promised jobs didn’t exist, his article said.

The White Citizens’ Council put the bikers into a forced migration and told them to contact the federal government, the NAACP or the National Urban League in an effort to “embarrass” President Kennedy, said Dr. Traci Parker, an Afro-professor. -American Studies at the University of Massachusetts and an expert in the civil rights movement.

“This is all very similar. Makes you wonder what playbook DeSantis is playing.” Parker said. “This is part of a history of really big, white segregationists who don’t want anything to do with people of color.”

Another similarity is that many Black families who left the South during the Reverse Freedom Rides did so freely because they believed they would find better employment and “escape the horrors of living under an oppressive regime that was Jim Crow,” Parker added.

A Venezuelan migrant reacts on September 16, 2022 in St.  Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
But lessons learned from previous Reverse Freedom Rides led the Martha’s Vineyard community to welcome and support displaced migrants as soon as they arrived, Parker stressed.

Island towns, as well as community-based and non-profit groups, joined the effort to provide assistance to the migrants with donations and shelter, food and care, according to a Facebook post by the Dukes County government.

The response from the Martha’s Vineyard community came as no surprise to those who have been active in civil rights and human rights issues in Massachusetts, including Sullivan with the NAACP, because the island has historically been open and welcoming to newcomers.

“The parallels of the reverse Freedom Rides are important to keep calling out, not only to raise awareness, but to heighten the importance of remembering our collective history — the parts that bring us joy and pride, as well as the parts that bring us shame,” Sullivan said.

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