By Greta de Jong
As a historian of racism and white supremacy in the United States, I’ve become accustomed to callous actions like those of Republican governors who organized transportation for Latin American migrants to states run by their political opponents.
Governors Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida are following the playbook of segregationists who provided one-way bus tickets to Northern cities for Black Southerners in the 1960s. At that time, the fight for racial equality was attracting national attention and support from many white Americans, inspiring some to join interracial Freedom Rides organized by civil rights groups to challenge segregation on interstate bus lines.
Then, as now, the message Southern racists aimed to send with their “reverse freedom rides” was, “Here, you love them so much, you take care of them.”
But these acts were more than just political stunts designed to embarrass Northern political leaders who sympathized with the civil rights movement. They were part of a broader effort by white supremacists to remove Black Americans from their communities and avoid dealing with the social consequences of centuries of racial discrimination.
Slavery, sharecropping and displacement
In the slavery and Jim Crow eras, racist policies backed by extreme violence limited access to education and economic opportunities for Black people to ensure that they had few options other than working for white employers.
Black sharecropping families in the early 20th century depended on their landlords to provide food, clothing and housing throughout the year until harvest time, when the costs of these goods were deducted from their share of the money made from sales of the crop. Plantation owners controlled the process, frequently using it to cheat workers out of their earnings and keep them perpetually in debt.
By the 1960s, however, most of these workers were no longer needed. Mechanization eliminated millions of agricultural jobs and generated massive unemployment in rural Southern communities. Rather than invest in job training programs or other initiatives to help displaced farm laborers, political leaders enacted policies designed to drive poor people out.
Strict eligibility requirements and arbitrary administration of state public assistance programs excluded many Black families from receiving aid. State legislators were slow to take advantage of federal funds that were available to expand anti-poverty programs, arguing that these were ploys to force integration on the South.
Government inaction left thousands of people without homes or income and exacerbated the suffering of the unemployed.
Segregationists’ ‘final solution’
Civil rights workers who came to the South to help local Black activists with desegregation and voter registration efforts were shocked by the economic deprivation that existed in the communities they visited. They reported seeing widespread hunger, dilapidated housing, unsanitary conditions, high infant mortality rates and other adverse health effects.
Raymond Wheeler, a doctor who visited Mississippi in 1967, described the state as “a vast concentration camp, in which live a great group of poor uneducated, semi-starving people, from whom all but token public support has been withdrawn.”
Others took the analogy to Nazi Germany further, arguing that this was white supremacists’ “final solution to the race question.” By denying Black Americans access to the basic means of survival, they left them with no options but to migrate away.
Political and economic motivations
The motivations behind these policies were both political and economic. White racists understood that providing assistance to displaced workers would encourage Black people to stay in the South. That posed a threat to their power, especially after passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 enabled more Black people to register to vote, participate in elections and run for office.
Moreover, the candidates Black Southerners supported ran on platforms that advocated policies to ensure racial and economic justice: investment in schools and other public services, enhanced assistance for unemployed people, more affordable health care and a stronger social safety net for those who were unable to work.
These proposals were anathema to wealthy white people who would face higher tax rates to pay for them. Warning of the consequences should Black Southerners be allowed to vote, Mississippi Citizens’ Council leader Ellett Lawrence asserted that property owners could see tax increases of “100%, 200% or more” if Black people were elected to office.
In a study of Wilcox County, Alabama, the National Education Association found that many landowners were afraid “the Negro majority will obtain control and raise land taxes to finance education and other services.” It concluded that this group showed “little taste for the anti-poverty programs of the sixties because it is more anxious to solve its problems through outmigration than it is to improve all of its people.”
White supremacy then and now
In many ways, Republicans like Abbott and DeSantis are the political descendants of Southern segregationists whose cruelty horrified other Americans in the 1960s.
Immigration scholars have noted how U.S. foreign policies contributed to the poverty and violence in Central and South America that migrants are fleeing. Yet rather than acknowledge this – along with assuming the moral responsibilities it entails – some GOP leaders denigrate and dehumanize refugees to win support from voters drawn to xenophobic messaging.
Watching this resurgent nativism, racism and disregard for human rights gaining strength in the 21st century is an ominous sight for anyone familiar with where these ideas have led in the past.
Greta de Jong is Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Reno
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Ok so break the law by entering the US illegally and even though the correct legal term is you are an “illegal alien” who should be sent back to your home country we let you run loose in the country or we are racists.
Wow. You people need help. This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the law. Seems we only enforce laws when convenient or it is racist. Hmmm. Interesting and illogical conclusion.
This story is a disgrace and you call yourself journalists?! Lol you are the racists, you are the hypocrites, you are the anti free speechers, you are the anti democracy! Disgusting narcissists with a grotesque agenda! Shame on you! At least we know why your “politicians” you protect and enable do it all…power and money. You…but you, why do you do it? You and the voters are worse because you do it for nothing and your Gods use and abuse you while they mock and laugh at you for continually giving them more and more power and money. Thanks for ruining our kids and grandkids futures for your disgraceful coverage you call news and truth. All lies and you will go to hell for this.
Wonder why the Vinyard did not put those people up on their island indefinitely rather than removing them in less than 48 hours. Don’t they have nice hotels willing to do this? 🤔🤔
Actions speak louder than words.
If you ever were there it isn’t a place with hotels, most of the housing for guests are in Bed and Breakfast places with limited rooms.
I feel what the people in the Vineyard did was so kind and caring.
LOL, “Vineyard did was so kind and caring” come on, how about the illegals sent to Chicago a sanctuary city, what happen they shipped them out too. All talk but no action. Alice have you opened your home yet to house illegals? Asking for a friend.
We don’t want the illegal here. Democrudes want there votes to stay in power. It is a drain on our education system, our medical system, our taxes and our language. The democrudes want them go live at the there houses. You know the ones with to he walls around them.
DeSantis Grand Mother came over to Ellis Island as an immigrant from Italy and couldn’t speak English. If she didn’t come he never would have become an American Citizen. How quickly he forgot that to make a political statement to his worshiper Donald.
So what you’re saying is that his grandmother arrived at a proper Port of Entry and followed the legal procedures for admittance. Good for her!
Jay: You are in Florida, right? Are you familiar with Cuban refugees? You want to send them back and shut down Miami? Come on, now.
Eileen Gernet says
This is a disgrace. How can you treat people like this. This governor took our tax dollars to ship unsuspecting immigrants to another state at a cost of over $12,000 a person and abandon them. He lied to them and literally kidnapped them then left them.
This is a man who dissolved Disney’s arrangement with the state and now residents of 2 counties may be expected to pay double the taxes to cover the municipal costs Disney was furnishing just because Disney dared to criticize his ridiculous gay laws.
He wants to run for president. Can you imagine such a reactionary with his finger on the nuclear button.
So how is it that Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are racists, but Joe Biden isn’t. He’s the one who initiated the midnight flights that dumped illegal immigrants on unsuspecting, and generally Republican led, cities and states. And what about the hypocrites in Martha’s Vineyard who shipped out the 50 illegals within 24 hours of their arrival, aren’t they performing the same racist actions? “Come on over, just don’t come here.” Ditto for Eric Adams in NYC. Mayor Lori Lightfoot bused immigrants out of Chicago and Muriel Bowser of Washington DC hauled out the National Guard, while famously stating Washington DC “is not a border town.” Why are their actions not being called out as racist? Seems like the Liberal Establishment is far more guilty of racism and immigrant phobia than the unsuspecting cities and towns that the illegal immigrants are being shuttled off to in the middle of the night.
To bring forth the argument that what’s going on today is a repeat of busing in the 60’s is an assault on any reasonable man’s intelligence. The Southern Blacks in the 60’s were LEGAL CITIZENS of this country. According to the law, they had every right to be where they were. They were part of the social fabric. They worked, payed taxes, owned property and held office. They were participants and contributors to American life. What you have today are people illegally hopping a fence to sneak into your backyard, and trespassing is a crime.
Now I’m not and would not believe Greg Abbott or Ron DeSantis are anti-immigrant. The issue is not immigration, the issue is ILLEGAL immigration. All countries have borders and immigration policies. The purpose of those policies is to vet the people trying to enter the county. The vetting tries to ensure that the people coming into the country are desirable, in that they will bring with them the qualities and values that the country stands for. You don’t see North Korea or Iran opening their arms to any Democratic Capitalist who wants to come in and launch a new political party or organize a union. America welcomes immigrants with open arms. It always has and hopefully always will. But when your home has an open invitation, guests are still supposed to announce themselves while entering through the front door.
Jay: Please tell me how those legal black people got here in the first place. Yeah, they worked alright, for their masters, and they had one hell of a time staying alive even after they were set free.
You Fox Entertainment folks all sound like you’re reading scripts.
The ORIGINAL land of no turn signals says
Dumbass Biden does it he’s a god,everybody else is a racist.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
President Biden and Governor Newsom have and continue to employ similar tactics.
Population decline is a real concern for any country, and as such we are causing harm to their Countries of Origin by illegally taking their people. While illegal immigration may be good for the American wealthy and American corporations its bad for the general population. I suspect in the future we will be required to provide additional aid to many of those countries. Is there any wonder why the president is complacent on the issue, as the initial burden of this invasion falls mainly on Republican states. Its also a great distraction to keep his foes occupied.
You must not be much of a “historian” of anything if you can only point at republicans. Have you forgotten about who set up the cages at the border? I will remind you, OBAMA. Have you forgotten what administration has been packing up illegals and flying them around the united states under the cover of darkness? I will remind you, BIDEN. Have you forgotten the liberal bastion that called in the national guard in to round up and ship off 50 illegals who were delivered to their doorstep by our great Governor? I will remind you, Martha’s Vineyard and the liberal elite who live there. You are no historian, you are not a journalist. You are nothing but a biased political hack.
Funny that none the the Cubans crossing the border are met with the same fate. Could it be do to the Cuban voting block that the Republicans count on when they need them?
Yankee: The problem here is that the Republicans are concerned that all the immigrants will vote Democratic, which is an assumption. It will become real if they keep treating people like shit.
DeSantis is hypocritical!! When he was a Naval Officer stationed in Iraq, his job was to guarantee that the Iraqi detainee were treated humanely. He also monitored Navy Seals and Green Berets to make sure that they complied with this practice. These detainees were warriors, enemy combatants fighting against and killing our troops. The Asylum Seekers are not even close to warriors; they are here seeking asylum from the corrupt, authoritarian governments of their homelands. I believe that Venezuela was the country most of these Asylum seekers came from. Treat Enemy Combatants humanely; throw the Asylum Seekers away like garbage.
If this is the way that Abbott and DeSantis treat Hispanics, the Latino community should vote in bloc to oust these governors.
Vota para expulsar a DeSantis!!