Reverse Freedom Riders: Cape Cod migrant crisis evokes 60-year-old memories of similar ploy

Rachael Devaney
Cape Cod Times

HYANNIS, Mass. — 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. 

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 (John F.) 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."

The latest:Migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard by DeSantis moving to Joint Base Cape Cod

The passengers, who were sent north by southern segregationists, eventually became known as Reverse Freedom Riders. Before landing in Hyannis, they were initially taken to the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, said DaLuz. 

Southern segregationists told the roughly 100 passengers they would be welcomed to John F. Kennedy's home, and given jobs and housing, she recalled.

The scheme was concocted  not only to retaliate against Northern liberals, she said, but also to push back against the civil rights movement and the Freedom Riders, activists from northern states who helped Black people register to vote in the South.

Those decades-old memories resurfaced this week on nearby Martha's Vineyard, said DaLuz, as roughly 50 Venezuelan migrants — men, women and children — were flown to the island by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who wanted them out of the Sunshine State.

DeSantis said Wednesday the migrants were sent to the tony island where Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats vacation as part of the governor's "promise to drop off undocumented migrants in progressive states." During a press conference in December, he mentioned Martha's Vineyard as a potential destination.

Some children of "reverse freedom riders" families toss ball among themselves amid army barracks at Camp Edwards, Mass., June 11, 1962. Some 42 persons were moved by a caravan of military cars to the Army?s deactivated base from a dormitory at Cape Cod Community College at Hyannis. The dormitory had to be vacated to make room for students arriving to start summer classes.

Aftershocks:Massachusetts, Florida and Texas politicians react to migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard

Back in 1962, Southern segregationists hoped to see the Reverse Freedom Riders flounder, But DaLuz said it didn't play out that way. They were welcomed. While some of the Reverse Freedom Riders eventually assimilated into Cape society, DaLuz said others went back to their homes in the South.

"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."

HYANNIS--12/10/13--  Dolores Daluz  at the Cornerstone Awards at the International Human Rights Day Breakfast.  Cape Cod Times/Steve Heaslip 121013sh01

Parallels between Venezuelan migrants and Reverse Freedom Riders

Put into motion:Why is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard?

The Venezuelan migrants boarded planes that 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 in Massachusetts, said throughout the Civil Rights Movement, "hardcore" Southern segregationists tried to move poor Black people out of states such as Mississippi and Alabama.

Seeking asylum:Cubans, Haitians are fleeing to US in historic numbers. These crises are fueling migration.

EDGARTOWN   9/16/22 Immigrants and volunteers gather for a photo before boarding a bus to leavie  St. Andrews in Edgartown

"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 eradicate segregation of the South. 

"This was a sideshow of what segregationists were willing to do," he said.

Florida's Legislature approved $12 million to transport 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.

“It’s somewhat tongue in cheek, but it is true,” DeSantis told reportersat the December news conference. “If you sent (them) to Delaware or Martha’s Vineyard or some of these places, that border would be secure the next day.” President Biden frequently travels to his Delaware home when not at the White House.

How to help:Martha's Vineyard is asking for donations for migrants. Here's how you can help.

A legacy of political manipulation

As Venezuelan migrants are provided with temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne, Morgan "Mwalim" Peters, a Grammy-award winning musician, said some the Reverse Freedom Riders also found their way to Otis Air National Guard base shortly after their arrival to Hyannis 60 years ago. 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 Venezuelan migrants must be terrified. 

"They had no suitcases — no nothing," said Peters, who is also an associate professor of English and communication at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. "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 have continually been manipulated to remain in ongoing systems of inequality, Harper said.

"We are not seen as fully human, or worthy of the same rights and respect that white people get," she said. 

Three "Reverse Freedom Riders" left New Orleans for Concord, NH, on one-way bus tickets bought by the New Orleans Citizens Council. They are shown with Citizens Council director George Singlemann, right, July 20, 1962 in New Orleans. The reverse Freedom Riders are, from left, Eddie Rose, Almer Payton and Willie Ramsey.

Peters 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."

Betty Johnson of Shreveport, La., and some of her children unpacked their belonging in a barracks at Camp Edwards, Mass., on Cape Cod, June 11, 1962. They were part of the Reverse Freedom Fighters sent to Massachusetts by Southern states who no longer wanted them.

As both a member of the Barnstable Human Rights Advisory Commission and a board member for No Place for Hate, Jeanne Morrison is "dumbfounded" at what's happened to the Venezuelan migrants.

"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.," she said.

"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."

Contributing: Douglas Suole, The Tallahassee Democrat