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Civil rights historian draws similarities from Martha's Vineyard to 'Reverse Freedom Rides' in 1962

That year, southern segregationists tricked Black families by giving one-way tickets north with empty promises of jobs and housing.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When civil rights historian Dr. Raymond Arsenault learned about what happened at Martha's Vineyard, it made him think of the year 1962.

"It's very cold and calculating," Arsenault said. "It was then, but here we are 60 years later."

That year, southern segregationists who formed the White Citizens Councils lured Black families with one-way tickets north. They were promised jobs, housing and even a presidential welcome by John F. Kennedy.

None of it was true.

"They were just dumped. Like human refuse, really," Arsenault said.

It was dubbed the "Reverse Freedom Rides" -- revenge for sending Freedom Riders to the south to fight segregation. The goal was to send a social and political message north, and humiliate Black families. 

"They made no provisions to find shelter or schooling or employment," Arsenault said. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he flew two planes carrying four dozen Venezuelan migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday because Florida is not a sanctuary state. 

DeSantis said on Friday at a news conference that he wanted to protect Florida from failed border policies.

"These sanctuary jurisdictions can put their money where their mouth is," DeSantis said. "They can provide the resources, they can do all of that. And then once that happens, the chance of folks coming to Florida is probably very, very low."

The move comes after Texas and Arizona's governors sent thousands of migrants on buses to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., this year. 

DeSantis said sending Venezuelan migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyard is part of what he calls the state relocation program, which the legislature approved to allocate $12 million for its budget.

DeSantis has since vowed to spend every penny of the money allocated to relocate more migrants

"I never thought I'd see anything like this again. I thought we were over this kind of ugly behavior," Arsenault said. "It's a sad, sad day for Florida."

Arsenault is the author of the "Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice." He is also the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History emeritus at the University of South Florida.


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