SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Civil rights attorneys are calling the relocation of migrants from Texas last week to Massachusetts a “shameless political stunt,” but the strategy of governors relocating migrants to the homes of their political enemies is not new.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis organized the two flights with nearly 50 migrants that landed in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday. He has been sending migrants to “sanctuary” cities or states, which limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The migrants sent to Martha’s Vinyard have since been moved to Joint Base Cape Cod.
The ploy is similar to the so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides” orchestrated by segregationists in the south in the early 1960s in response to the Freedom Rides that challenged Jim Crow laws and pressured the federal government and local leaders to end segregation in interstate transportation facilities.
“To embarrass Northern liberals and humiliate Black people, southern White Citizens Councils started their so-called ‘Reverse Freedom Rides,’ giving Black people one-way tickets to northern cities with false promises of jobs, housing, and better lives,” the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library tweeted on Friday with a link to a historic article from their archives about the bussing of a Black Shreveport family from Shreveport to New Jersey in 1963.
Charles Barnett, president of the White Citizens’ Council of Louisiana, put Alan Gilmore, his wife, and eight children on a bus in Shreveport with $75 and “a dozen cans of sardines to snack upon” during the journey, according to the article. Gilmore had worked as a yard man and in a bakery and a grocery store in Shreveport and said he had no job preference in Trenton.
“I can’t find any work here. I hope I can find something there. I appreciate your sending me on this trip. Thank you very much,” he reportedly told the White Citizens’ Council.
But the Council was not simply being kind. Gilmore’s family was unknowingly being used to send a message directly to Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who had previously led marshalls in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi.
The Gilmore family and all their belongings were packed in two boxes, a laundry bag, and a footlocker, and sent on their way to an address in Trenton, where Barnett believed Katzenbach’s elderly mother lived at the time. It turned out the Trenton address was where Katzenbach’s aunt lived, but the point was made, nonetheless. Their luggage was marked “Remember Mississippi.”
According to the article, other Black families were sent to Plainfield, New Jersey, New Richmond, Wisconsin, and Santa Rosa, California, where other top leadership of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division lived.
The summer family home of President John F. Kennedy, Hyannis Port, Massachusets, was also a strategic target of the White Citizens Councils’ Reverse Freedom Rides.
Amos Guthridge, an Arkansas lawyer who helped spearhead the Reverse Freedom Rides, distributed posters meant to attract Black families, particularly those with single mothers and many children, with the message, “President Kennedy’s brother assures you a grand reception to Massachusetts. Good jobs, housing, etc. are promised.”
George Singleman of the Greater New Orleans Citizens’ Council distributed handbills throughout southeastern Louisiana that offered “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.”
On the back of the handbills was a list of the addresses and phone numbers for welfare departments, the NAACP, and Urban League offices in Washington and four other Northern cities. Once Reverse Freedom Riders were recruited, they were given one-way tickets to strategic locations, often unaware they were being used as political pawns.
Sixty years later, Republican governors in Texas and Florida appear to be taking a page out of the same playbook.
Busloads of mostly Venezuelan immigrants were dropped Thursday near Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, D.C., holding their belongings in clear plastic bags. They had been promised jobs, food, housing, and support for their immigration cases. Texas Governor Greg Abbott was quick to claim responsibility.
“This morning, two Texas busses of migrants arrived at the Naval Observatory in DC. VP Harris claims our border is “secure” & denies the crisis. We’re sending migrants to her backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border,” Abbott tweeted.
“The fact that Fox News, and not the Department of Homeland Security, the City, or local engineers, were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children, on the side of a busy D.C. street makes clear that this is just a cruel, premeditated political stunt,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“Texas will continue sending migrants to sanctuary cities like Washington, D.C. until President Biden and Border Czar Harris step up and do their jobs to secure the border,” Abbott said in a statement that included a demand that the Biden administration allocates resources that include acquiring 1,700 unused steel panels to build the border wall in Texas.