Betty Beal had a one-way bus ticket to Minnesota and a promise that work and welcome were awaiting her and her family a thousand miles north in Redwood Falls.
A bus ride from Louisiana to Minnesota took two days back then, in 1962, but the men from her hometown had given her $25 to cover meals for her, her 16-year-old sister and her three small children. They showed her a picture from a Minnesota newspaper about another Black man they'd sent north, checking into a Redwood Falls hotel. They'll be waiting to greet you, they told her, pulling the paper back before she could read the story.
The Beal family reached the bus depot in the small southwestern Minnesota town on a Sunday night that August.
There was no job waiting for Betty Beal. No housing. Just another taunting telegram from the white citizens of Lake Providence, La., introducing five new victims of the cruel hoax they called the Reverse Freedom Ride.
"When I got here first and found there wasn't anything for me, I felt real sad and afraid and sort of lonely," Beal told a Minneapolis Tribune reporter.
Hundreds of Black men, women and children were tricked into traveling north that year – promised everything from good jobs to Christmas dinner with Hubert Humphrey.
White Citizens' Councils across the segregated South were embarrassed by newspaper headlines about the Freedom Rider buses they'd firebombed and the federal Civil Rights lawsuits they'd lost.
They wanted some of those unflattering headlines directed north.
It was a nasty, petty moment in American history. A bit of cruelty we'd almost forgotten – until Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tricked immigrants into flying to Martha's Vineyard with false promises about the work and welcome waiting for them.
Then, like now, the stunt backfired.
Minnesota was much better than Georgia, Clayton Holmes, 45, told a Minneapolis Tribune writer after the White Citizens' Council of Macon promised him that someone would be waiting in St. Paul to give him a job. No one here called him boy, he said. People addressed him as Mr. Holmes. No one walked into his home uninvited because they were white and they could.
"They talk to me," he said, "like I'm people."
When the promised welcoming committee didn't appear, Holmes took the initiative and called George Vavoulis, the mayor of St. Paul. The mayor placed a few calls and soon Holmes had a one-room apartment and a job in a café kitchen in Minneapolis, earning $50 a week.
He sent half his paychecks to his wife, Helen, and their four children back in Macon. He told the reporter he would love to move his family to Minnesota before school started.
There was so much for the children to learn, he said. And to un-learn.
The small city of Lake Providence targeted the even smaller city of Redwood Falls because it was the hometown of Richard Parsons, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice who had worked on the lawsuit that forced Lake Providence and the surrounding East Carroll Parish to let Black citizens vote for the first time in 40 years.
"I knew they wouldn't do anything for them," J.R. Dillard, head of the committee that organized the hoax, gloated to the Minneapolis Star in one of the many articles written about the human beings he treated like political props. "Now we'll see if they still want to run our business. … We had no trouble until the North started sending dabblers like Parsons."
Redwood Falls arranged hotel rooms and temporary jobs for the riders tricked north. Several families offered the Beal sisters domestic work, but none of the jobs came with childcare, so the family boarded another bus toward Detroit, where her grandmother lived. But first, they went on picnics with town residents, played in the park and marveled at the buffalo in the Redwood Falls zoo.
After a few months, the stunt sputtered out. Until Christmas that year, when a particularly nasty historical footnote named George Singelmann announced he would be sending 20 Black residents from New Orleans to Minnesota in the dead of winter so they could have Christmas dinner with Sen. Hubert Humphrey.
"Senator Humphrey's bleeding heart has been good for civil rights on the floor of the Senate and we want to see it in practice," Singelmann told the Minnesota papers.
The fact that the Humphrey family would be in Washington, D.C. — not Minnesota — for Christmas didn't seem to deter the New Orleans Citizens' Council from its plans.
So Minnesota mobilized. The NAACP, the Urban League and pastor James Holloway of Zion Baptist Church formed an aid committee. The day after the announcement, 550 students at Carleton College — about half the student body — skipped dinner and donated the money to help anyone arriving coatless and penniless at Christmastime.
On Christmas Eve, the segregationists backed down and announced there would be no reverse ride after all.
In the end, the pointless stunt disrupted the lives of about 200 people at a time when millions of Black southerners were voluntarily migrating north.
Just another bunch of bad guys trying to make themselves feel better by making everyone else feel worse.
"Down there the white man's feelings — they're awful easy to hurt," Clayton Holmes told the Minneapolis Tribune in the summer of 1962. "But the colored man ain't supposed to have no feelings at all."