DeSantis's Martha's Vineyard Stunt Echoes "Reverse Freedom Rides" of Civil Rights EraHistorians in the News
tags: immigration, refugees, Ron DeSantis
Eliza Davis was bewildered the day she arrived in a wealthy tourist town on Cape Cod. An agricultural worker, she had been promised work and housing if she took a free trip to another state. Days later, disembarking with her eight children, she had little idea where she was, that a president had a family compound down the road, or that she was a “pawn,” as locals told the New York Times, in a political stunt.
Davis, 36, was not among the migrants who arrived Wednesday in Martha’s Vineyard — a resort island off Cape Cod where former president Barack Obama has a home — courtesy of a flight arranged by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). She was a Black woman from Alabama, bused to and abandoned in Hyannis, Mass., in 1962, not far from the holiday home of President John F. Kennedy.
Today’s migrants in Martha’s Vineyard are now being transported to the same Cape Cod military base that housed the “Reverse Freedom Riders” decades ago.
It was all part of the so-called Reverse Freedom Rides, arranged by White segregationists in 1962 in retaliation for the Freedom Rides of the previous summer, when Black and White volunteers rode buses through the South supporting desegregation.
The plot was organized by white supremacist Citizens’ Councils in Arkansas, who bought radio ads and made fliers advertising the “opportunity” to African Americans.
They focused on recruiting men with criminal records and single mothers with a lot of children, cynically presuming White liberals would welcome them the least.
Southern segregationist groups baldly deceived Black families using tactics “consciously parodying the Freedom Rides,” noted Clive Webb, an American history professor at the University of Sussex, in a 2004 paper on the Reverse Freedom Rides. The Greater New Orleans Citizens’ Council ran newspaper ads in 1962 promising "Free Transportation plus $5.00 for Expenses to any Negro Man or Woman or Family (no limit to size) who desire to migrate to the Nation’s Capital or any city in the north of their choosing.” Notices were also posted in prisons, offering free transportation to prisoners whose sentences were set to expire, Webb found.