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Hampton Roads Community News

“Reverse Migration”: Used 60 Years Ago

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

For the past three weeks the Republican Governors of Arizona, Florida and Texas have been criticized by the Democrats for busing or flying immigrants to northern locales like Martha’s Vineyard, New York City or Washington, D.C.

These GOP governors claim these locales are liberal “sanctuary cities” willing to accept legal or illegal immigrants crossing the southern border.

But immigration advocates and political leaders of these locales say that it is a racist and mean-spirited stunt, to win political points ahead of the Midterm elections.

Florida Governor Ron Desantis is seeking reelection in November, and possibly a run for the White House in 2024.

Desantis promised a group of 50 Venezuelan asylum seekers that good jobs and housing, as well as expedited work permits, awaited them in Boston.

Since they surrendered to border police, they are deemed legal migrants, according to U.S. law.

The migrants were given free plane tickets paid by the state of Florida. But instead of Boston, without their knowledge, they were flown to an airport near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. This is the summer resting place for many affluent and progressive-leaning folks, including the Obamas.

His aim was to cause a shockwave among a liberal Democratic party stronghold and to expose their hypocrisy when they complained of being overwhelmed by the arrival of the migrants.

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The ploy didn’t work out exactly as planned, as Massachusetts residents scrambled to welcome and assist the migrants.

They may even get visas.

Desantis, and other GOP governors are repeating a historical event that took place 60 years ago.

In the summer of 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the “Freedom Rides.”

Black and white college students were recruited to ride Greyhound buses through southern states to test the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on segregated facilities serving interstate travel.

They began during the first year of John F. Kennedy’s administration.

The Freedom Riders encountered frequent and brutal beatings, arrests and jail from local white vigilantes organized by the Ku Klux Klan.

Yet, the Freedom Rides did not stop, despite the violence encountered by the young riders. They continued the following year, covered by white newspapers and the Black Press, including the New Journal and Guide.

The news accounts placed a spotlight on the violence, the Jim Crow policies of the South, and on the white “Citizens Councils” which formed across the South as the non-violent, white-collar version of the KKK.

Professional, business and government leaders were members.

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According to the June 2, 1962 edition of the GUIDE, Citizens Council leaders in New Orleans and Little Rock cooked up a public relations scheme to deflect bad media coverage of how the Freedom Riders were being treated.

They began to undertake “Reverse Freedom Rides” to northern cities by offering Black southerners free bus fare and relocation costs.

Organizers of the devious plot told their victims that good employment and housing awaited them.

But their aim was to expose the hypocrisy of northern white liberals who supported the aim of the Freedom Rides but were not open to fair employment and housing for Blacks.

The Councils’ plan targeted one specific white Democratic northern liberal: Edward M. Kennedy, the brother of the President.

“President Kennedy’s brother assured you a grand reception to Massachusetts,” the Councils’ leaderships assured the Blacks.

At that time, Kennedy was campaigning for a seat in the United States Senate from Massachusetts.

According to the GUIDE article, in the spring of 1962, David Harris, a short-order cook from Little Rock, Arkansas arrived in Hyannis, the Kennedy family’s summer compound.

Harris had arrived via a one-way ticket from Little Rock’s white Citizens’ Council.

Kennedy, instead of rejecting Harris, organized a warm reception for him and his family on May 12.

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The GUIDE story, from the United Press International (UPI), said Harris was one of the first of roughly 100 Black southerners the Councils

shipped to Hyannis.

The GUIDE article was entitled “Hungry Desperate ‘Freedom Bus Riders– a Sorry Story” from the United Press International.

The article said “Since (May 12) more Negroes have come to Cape Cod, including the two huge fatherless families whose mothers had vague ideas of supporting them by baby-sitting or cooking.”

The article said the “exiles” had been sent mainly from three cities: at least 57 from New Orleans; 24 from Little Rock; and 21 from Shreveport, Louisiana. Four came from Montgomery, Alabama and one from Macon, Georgia.

“The Little Rock Citizens Council last week was urging more donations, so it could get other Negro families on the way,” the article noted.

The UPI tracked the Council’s exports of 34 to New York and 34 more to Hyannis.

The first arrivals in the northern cities got help from Urban League, Travelers aide, the NAACP and church groups.

UPI said some did receive red-carpet welcomes from welfare and civic groups and help in finding work and lodging.

About half a dozen returned home, unable to find jobs or housing, according to the article, but others were “going to stick it out.”

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None of the families reportedly went without housing or at least a hotel roof over their heads. But jobs were another thing in these northern areas which already had a high rate of unskilled and unemployed labor.

The first “freedom rider North” was Louis Boyd of New Orleans. He got big headlines when he landed a $100 a week job in Jersey City, New Jersey. The job lasted one week.

‘His wife and eight children were cramped for three miserable weeks in a Harlem hotel. Last week an apartment was found for the Boyds, but he is still jobless,’ reported the article.

By 1962, according to the UPI story in the GUIDE, thousands of Black people were migrating North, seeking better jobs and escaping Jim Crow segregation every month.

According to the GUIDE article, the Citizens Councils continued to lie about the migration ploy and Black families continued to sign up for the free rides.

The article said one of the most vocal organizers of the “reverse freedom rides” was George Signalmann, a member the New Orleans Citizens’ Council, who was so racist and antisemitic he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

He declared that white liberals in the North were no more willing to accept Blacks as equal than white southerners.

But by the end of 1962 the council scheme began to lose steam due to a shortage of funding, according to a GUIDE article in December.

Mayors of northern cities complained that reverse freedom rides were putting pressure on their cities’ already weak employment base.

White southern newspapers joined Black publications as deploring them as actions akin to Nazis exporting Jews from Germany during WWII.

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The Councils’ plans did cast light on the hardships Blacks faced in the North due to racism that existed since the historic Great Northern Migration of Blacks from the South had begun three decades earlier.

They met hostile whites who feared competing against them for employment. They were denied adequate housing in viable neighborhoods and other racist policies.

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