Ron DeSantis Flew Immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, Echoing a Racist Stunt From Exactly 60 Years Ago

Kate Storey / Esquire
Ron DeSantis Flew Immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, Echoing a Racist Stunt From Exactly 60 Years Ago Two unidentified women, residents of Hyannis, Massachusetts, help some of the nine children of Lela Mae Williams (not in photo) off the bus, June 8, 1962, at Hyannis on their arrival from Huttig, Arkansas. (photo: Frank C. Curtin/AP)

ALSO SEE: Migrants Stranded in Martha's Vineyard Say They Were Lied To

In 1962, it was just a bunch of racists; this time the inhumanity comes at the hands of the state.

Yesterday, close to 50 undocumented immigrants arrived on the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard. When they landed at the airport, they had a brochure for the Martha’s Vineyard Community Center, so they walked the two miles to get there, having had nearly no food or water all day, according to The Cape Cod Times. The two planes left from Texas but many of the immigrants were originally from Venezuela.

It didn’t take long for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to take credit.

"Yes, Florida can confirm the two planes with illegal immigrants that arrived in Martha’s Vineyard today were part of the state’s relocation program to transport illegal immigrants to sanctuary destinations," the governor’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, told She went on to say it was done in response to “the Biden administration’s open border policies.” Fox News ran the story under a banner on its homepage: “EXCLUSIVE: DeSantis flying illegal immigrants to swanky hideaway for the rich and famous.”

It was 60 years ago when this corner of Massachusetts was the center of a similarly cruel stunt. It is a little-told chapter of history called in the media at the time “the Reverse Freedom Rides.” In the summer of 1962, a group of white segregationists and supremacists known as the White Citizens Council passed out leaflets and placed want ads in Southern newspapers to recruit Black families with the promise of jobs up north—and, in particular, in Hyannis, where then-President John F. Kennedy spent summers with his family. The ads read: “President Kennedy’s brother assures you a grand reception to Massachusetts. Good jobs, housing, etc. are promised.”

The deceptive and inhumane plan was a response to the heroic Freedom Rides the year before. Civil rights activists rode buses into the segregated South, and a year later the White Citizens Council sent busloads of Black riders up to the North.

"For many years, certain politicians, educators and certain religious leaders have used the white people of the South as a whipping boy, to put it mildly, to further their own ends and their political campaigns," said Amis Guthridge, one of the White Citizens Council organizers, in footage unearthed by NPR’s Gabrielle Emanuel in 2020. "We're going to find out if people like Ted Kennedy… and the Kennedys, all of them, really do have an interest in the Negro people, really do have a love for the Negro."

Many of the 53 people who arrived at Hyannis—including 33 children—were sent to the Cape Cod Community College, where they were given food and bedding collected by the Cape Cod chapter of the NAACP. “It was one of the most inhumane things I have seen in my years of social action work,” local Cape activist Margaret Mosley said in a 1994 interview.

Yesterday, the undocumented immigrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were taken to nearby churches for a place to sleep after being given pizza, salad, and soup by local volunteers. One man told the Vineyard Gazette that they were promised housing and jobs when they arrived. “Republicans who call themselves Christians have been plotting for some time to use human lives—men, women, and children—as a political pawns,” Massachusetts Rep. Dylan Fernandes tweeted last night. “It is evil and inhumane.”

When busloads of families were sent to Hyannis, the White Citizens Council made sure the media covered the whole event—reporters were there waiting when the buses pulled up to Hyannis Main Street. The public cruelty was the point. And right after the plane arrived last night in Martha’s Vineyard, where President Obama has spent his summers, DeSantis’s communication’s director said in her statement to, "As you may know, in this past legislative session the Florida legislature appropriated $12 million to implement a program to facilitate the transport of illegal immigrants from this state consistent with federal law.”

The parallels playing out after six decades are jarring. And this time, the cruelty is state-sponsored.

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