The current Republican party seems to have just one policy and that is to ‘own the libs’, whatever the cost to real, live people. The appalling publicity-seeking stunt by Florida governor Ron DeSantis in luring Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, has aroused widespread condemnation as a cruel and cynical example of such thinking, that having to deal with asylum seekers would make liberals reconsider their humane approach to desperate people seeking better lives. Texas governor Greg Abbott has done something similar, sending busloads of asylum seekers to Washington, DC. However, the residents of those areas have responded by helping out the arrivals.
This idea of sending people to other places to ‘teach the residents of those places a lesson’ has a sordid antecedent in the ‘Reverse Freedom Rides’ of the civil rights era, where white segregationists in the south sent busloads of poor black people, especially women and children who were likely to need public assistance, to Northern states, luring them to accept the rides by promising them all manner of good things. The southern segregationists were hoping to change northern opinion against desegregation. It seems like DeSantis and Abbott see no shame in looking like the segregationists of a previous era. It is part, I suppose, of their goal of returning the US to the 1950s, which they bizarrely see as some sort of golden age ideal.
NPR describes what happened back then, starting with the story nearly 60 years ago of one black woman and her nine children from Arkansas who were lured onto a Greyhound that was headed to Massachusetts where she was told president Kennedy would meet her and that she would be given a job and housing. It was, of course, false.
“It was one of the most inhuman things I have ever seen,” recalled Margaret Moseley, a longtime civil rights activist in Hyannis, in a televised interview a few years before her death.
Fuming over the civil rights movement, Southern segregationists had concocted a way to retaliate against Northern liberals. In 1962, they tricked about 200 African Americans from the South into moving north. The idea was simple: When large numbers of African Americans showed up on Northern doorsteps, Northerners would not be able to accommodate them. They would not want them, and their hypocrisy would be exposed.
[T]he prevailing sentiment was that the Reverse Freedom Rides exposed the callousness of the Southern segregationists, not the hypocrisy of Northern liberals. Private citizens from across the country wrote to offer their support. Some suggested housing the Reverse Freedom Riders in their own towns and homes; others wrote checks. The first donation arrived from Little Rock, where many of the Reverse Freedom Rides originated.
By the late fall, the scheme fizzled out unceremoniously.
According to Webb, the story of the Reverse Freedom Rides is not a tale of how the United States is battling the same foes forever. Instead, he said, it is a reminder of how bystanders can foil a racist plot. “The white conservatives, who were behind that campaign then, actually underestimated the decency of many ordinary people,” Webb said.
It was not an entirely happy ending. Although they were helped out, the Black families that were sent north had to still endure the racism that is endemic in the US except now they also had to learn to deal with unfamiliar culture, very different from the one they left behind, not to mention having to leave behind family and friends.
This disgusting idea may be yet another one that originated in the fetid swamp that is the mind of Donald Trump, who sees people as pawns to serve political ends, and then was picked up by other Republicans like DeSantis and Abbott.
In April 2019, historian Clive Webb was cooking in his kitchen with the radio playing when a news story came on. He paused as he heard President Donald Trump explain his idea of putting undocumented immigrants on buses and dropping them off in so-called “sanctuary cities.”
“They want more people in the sanctuary cites. Well, we’ll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply,” Trump declared at a news conference. “And let’s see if they’re so happy. They’re always saying, ‘We have open arms.’ Let’s see if they have open arms.”
I was glad to see that DeSantis and others may face some legal consequences for their actions, if it can be shown that they lured people to cross state lines under false pretenses.