DeSantis's Stunt Echoes a Cruel Chapter of American HistoryRoundup
tags: racism, immigration, Ron DeSantis
Nicole Hemmer is an associate professor of history and director of the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Center for the Study of the Presidency at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics and the forthcoming Partisans: The Conservative Revolutionaries Who Remade American Politics in the 1990s. She cohosts the history podcasts “Past Present” and “This Day in Esoteric Political History.”
The arrival of a clutch of migrants to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City – sent from a southern state that did not want them as residents – triggered outrage from city leaders and civil rights activists. A US senator from New York denounced it as a “heartless display of theatricalism.”
A civil rights leader called it “a hypocritical effort to gain cheap publicity.” When asked whether the city would send the migrants back south, a city commissioner responded, “I have neither the authority nor the desire to send anyone back anywhere he doesn’t want to go.”
It was the spring of 1962, and officials in New York and other cities were grappling with how best to respond to an outrageous act: the decision of southern segregationists to begin funding one-way trips to the North for Black citizens in what they called “reverse Freedom Rides” – a jab at the efforts of civil rights activists to desegregate interstate travel.
Officials understood it was both a publicity stunt (as historian Clive Webb has documented, segregationists tipped off local media to the arrival of migrants) and an act of stunning cruelty (segregationists lied to migrants, saying jobs and housing awaited them in their new cities.)
Sixty years later, the reverse Freedom Rides feel newly resonant, as governors in Texas and Florida scheme to ship migrants and refugees from the South to northern cities with Democrats in power. On Wednesday, 50 migrants arrived in Martha’s Vineyard, an island in Massachusetts that serves as a summer destination for wealthy New Englanders and well-heeled, well-connected people like former President Barack Obama.
That scheme sparked both outrage and action on the tiny island, where residents scrambled to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the migrants, who had arrived with little more than each other and a map to the local community services center. Though the residents of Martha’s Vineyard had been caught off-guard, the plan had been heralded for months in right-wing media circles, where hosts cackled at the thought of liberal cities awash in confused and displaced migrants.
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