Reverse Freedom Riders: Political pawns of the past mirror current Cape Cod migrant crisis
HYANNIS — It was 2 a.m. in 1962 and Doloras DaLuz, 88, along with her late husband Joseph DaLuz, rushed to Zion Union Church, to greet Southern Blacks, who were bussed to Hyannis from states such as Arkansas and Louisiana.
The passengers, who were sent north by southern segregationists, eventually became known as Reverse Freedom Riders.
As DaLuz, who was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), approached the parking lot, she said stunned passengers wearily stepped from Greyhound buses, unsure of where they were — and what would become of them.
"They were promised they would see President Kennedy and they were shocked he wasn't there," she said. 'They had been taken from their roots and were promised things that didn't appear."
Before landing in Hyannis, the passengers were initially taken to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, said DaLuz.
Southern segregationists, and southern White Citizens Councils, she said, told the roughly 100 passengers they would be welcomed to John F. Kennedy's home, and given jobs and housing.
The scheme was concocted by Southern segregationists to both retaliate against Northern liberals, she said, but to also push back against the civil rights movement and 1961 Freedom Rider direct actions, which included helping Black people register to vote.
Unbeknownst to Southern segregationists, Kenneth Warren, a one-time reverend at the Unitarian Church of Barnstable, was alerted that the buses would be arriving, said DaLuz. While she doesn't recall who informed Warren that the Reverse Freedom Riders were on their way, DaLuz said Warren, who died in 2016, and NAACP activist Margaret Mosely, who died in 1997, quickly organized support for the passengers.
While Southern segregationists hoped to see the Reverse Freedom Riders flounder, DaLuz said, it didn't play out that way.
"It was a dirty trick. A play on human beings," she said. "But people of this town came together. The churches, the NAACP. And we found housing and work for some of them and got their kids into school."
While some of the Reverse Freedom Riders eventually assimilated into Cape society, DaLuz said others went back to their homes in the South.
Parallels between Venezuelan migrants and Reverse Freedom Riders
The same thing happened Wednesday on Martha's Vineyard, said DaLuz, as roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants — men, women and children — were flown north from Florida by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Through reporting done by the Times, a spokesperson for DeSantis said Wednesday that the migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard as part of the governor's "promise to drop off undocumented migrants in progressive states."
The planes took off from Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas, then went to Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Florida. From there, one plane went to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and then to Martha’s Vineyard. The other plane went to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to Martha's Vineyard.
"Here comes DeSantis using people to make a political statement. It's the same strategy over and over again," DaLuz said. "We are seeing what kind of people DeSantis and others really are."
Kristen Harper, a reverend and senior minister at Barnstable Unitarian Church, has spoken about the Reverse Freedom Riders during several sermons of the past. Like DaLuz, Harper sees the parallels between the Reverse Freedom Riders and the Venezuelan migrants, who were also promised jobs, and opportunities within the commonwealth.
Politicians like DeSantis, Harper said, view migrants as "pawns."
"They are being shifted around for political purposes," she said. "When these are human beings who are looking for hope and help."
Michael Kryzanek, professor emeritus of political science at Bridgewater State University, said throughout the Civil Rights Movement, "hardcore" Southern segregationists tried to move poor Black people out of states such as Mississippi and Alabama. It was suggested that they would have a better life than having to deal with being a part of segregation discrimination, he said.
"Segregationists wanted to primarily preserve traditions and states' rights," he said. "They were being forced to change their lifestyle and what was relatively normal in terms of the way whites and African Americans interacted up until that time."
While President Kennedy never guaranteed housing or jobs to the Reverse Freedom Riders, said Kryzanek, their presence in Hyannis momentarily created tension between the actual Freedom Rider movements, which were attempting to break down the ultra segregation of the South.
"This was a sideshow of what segregationists were willing to do," he said.
While events surrounding the Reverse Freedom Riders was an isolated incident, what's not clear, said Kryzanek, is how many planeloads of migrants could arrive in different locations across northern states.
As reported by the Times, Florida's Legislature approved $12 million to fund transporting migrants out of Florida. A DeSantis administration official, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, sparked controversy when she said the governor would send undocumented Cuban migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border to President Biden’s home state of Delaware.
"The question is, how long will this occur? Will Texas and Florida continue to send busloads of people here?" he said. "This has already created a major controversy but the extent remains to be seen."
A legacy of political manipulation surrounds POC
As Venezuelan migrants are provided with temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne, Morgan "Mwalim" Peters, a Grammy-award winning musician, and an associate professor of English and communication at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said some the Reverse Freedom Riders also found their way to Otis Air National Guard base shortly after their arrival to Hyannis. Others were also taken to Cape Cod Community College's empty summer space as a temporary dormitory.
With no foundational plans for the future, he said the migrants must be terrified.
"They had no suitcases — no nothing," he said. "It's a direct ploy that targeted innocent people to highlight a political stance instead of figuring out resolutions that make sense for asylum seekers."
Throughout the genesis of the United States, generations of people of color, said Harper, have continually been manipulated to remain in ongoing systems of inequality.
"We are not seen as fully human, or worthy of the same rights and respect that white people get," she said.
Peters agreed and said both the Venezuelan migrants, and the Reverse Freedom Riders, were "needlessly victimized" with no regard to basic human rights, or dignity.
"I’m horrified and ashamed of this type of behavior in a country that is supposed to be recognized as a place of diversity," he said. "It's just more divisiveness and hatefulness."
As a member of the Barnstable Human Rights Advisory Commission, as well as a board member for No Place for Hate, Jeanne Morrison is outraged at the current situation revolving around Venezuelan migrants.
"I'm dumbfounded," she said. "I’m astounded that still today we have elected officials violating the human rights and dignity of people just because they feel they can or feel that immigrants seeking asylum are unworthy of decency and dignity."
When referring to DeSantis and other southern politicians, Morrison said actions surrounding migrants from the southern borders, emulate feelings of hate and fear.
"White, black, brown, indigenous, Asian — we are all here to stay so these kinds of acts make no sense," she said. "It infuriates me to know that these are the kind of people being elected into office. This is all about wealth and power."
Contact Rachael Devaney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @RachaelDevaney.
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