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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

In Florida, the governor resurrects an ugly slice of Southern history

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a group of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard last week. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, tells the story of where that idea came from.

Let’s start this morning with a short history lesson.

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In the early '60s, some white supremacists in the South were deeply upset that certain people in the government were trying to make life better for Black Americans. So they hatched a plan. They would put Black families on buses and send them up North to live. They called it the Reverse Freedom Rides.

The JFK Library posted a newspaper story from 1963 on its Twitter feed the other day. The story described how the White Citizens’ Council of Louisiana sent a Black couple and their eight children from Shreveport to Trenton, New Jersey. Why Trenton? That was the home of a deputy U.S. attorney general who oversaw the federal troops on hand when James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi.

Maybe you know by now why I’m telling you this story.

It appears that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has studied his history. But what a decent human being might see as a cruel stunt, DeSantis sees as a brilliant idea.

DeSantis arranged for about 50 immigrants, mostly from Venezuela, to be dropped off on Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island known as a home for the rich and liberal. They weren’t even in Florida — according to news reports, they boarded planes in San Antonio — but DeSantis was behind the scheme, spending some of the $12 million the state set aside this year to ship immigrants elsewhere.

DeSantis is just catching up to his fellow GOP governors Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey, from Texas and Arizona, who have been putting immigrants on buses and sending them to Northern cities for months now (Some of those immigrants ended up getting off the bus in Charlotte and staying here). But at least Texas and Arizona are border states. DeSantis had to go find immigrants somewhere else to pull off his stunt. He knew he’d get attention by sending poor folks to a rich enclave. He gets style points, I suppose as if he wore especially nice boots to kick a puppy.

The situation at the border is heartbreaking. Venezuelan immigrants, like most of the ones DeSantis shipped to Martha’s Vineyard, are especially problematic because Venezuela won’t take them back and Mexico won’t accept them either.

The U.S. government is deporting thousands of immigrants from other Latin American countries under a COVID-related health order. But people keep coming. They will always keep coming, as long as the U.S. continues to be their best chance to escape poverty and embrace freedom. You can’t build a wall high enough. If I was on the other side I’d come, and you would, too.

The solutions are messy and complicated. We have to make it easier for people to come here legally while helping other countries become wealthier and more stable so their citizens want to stay.

But nuances don’t matter to Ron DeSantis. We talk a lot these days about people using not using the right pronouns, but DeSantis doesn’t even use the right nouns. To him, immigrants aren’t people, they’re things.

He doesn’t care if Martha’s Vineyard takes care of them or not. He doesn’t care about the words on the Statue of Liberty or the teachings of the New Testament. All he wants is to win the day on Fox News and win the election whenever he decides to run for president. The fates of the people he sent away are just collateral damage.

I’m not going to say that Ron DeSantis is a craven white supremacist. But I will say, because it is a fact, that he is using the same tactics that craven white supremacists used.

It would be poetic justice to pack up Ron DeSantis and send him on a flight somewhere. But apparently, we’re not ready to go to Mars — just yet.


Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.