Citizens of Pearl, Mississippi didn't know what to make of the controversial billboard that appeared in their town. The sign showed the chilling standoff between riot police and black civil rights protesters on Bloody Sunday with Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
"I don't really know what to think," Pearl resident Madeleine Nixon told WLBT. "It's definitely offensive, but it's their right at the same time."
An anonymous man said to the news outlet, "It could mean that they're acknowledging police brutality and they want to do something about it, or it could be racist."
'Make America Great Again'? Or 'Empower Racism Again'? ??— monroe???? (@tdotmonroe) November 20, 2016
This state of confusion is arguably exactly what the artist-led Super PAC For Freedoms was aiming for when they erected the billboard on Hwy 80. Their mission statement asserts that our government has "stifled complex conversation" and that they aim to subvert "nostalgia for a 'simpler' America."
Eric Gottesman, co-founder of For Freedoms, said there is no single goal of the billboard, but, like their mission statement, it is intended to start conversations. Gottesman told CNN, "Using 'Make America Great Again' was meant to prompt the question 'When was America great?'"
"The photo—as well as the billboard's placement—is a reference to the South's history of civil rights protests," said Gottesman. They were originally intending to run the ad in Selma, Alabama but branched out into Pearl when there was no ad space available in the city.
Although For Freedoms seems to have an admirable message, the imagery seems too open-ended. Some conversations about race should not be indulged as white supremacist rhetoric and racist hate crimes dominate the news in the wake of Trump's election.
Perhaps it was for these reasons that the Mayor of Pearl contacted For Freedoms and asked for the billboard to be removed from its spot on the highway. For Freedoms will comply later this week, but there is no doubt that the imagery started a conversation about what "Make America Great Again" really means.
"We're hoping to take a place with an important history of protest and people struggling for freedoms and make people think about what that means today in the context of current political conversations," Gottesman stated. "Is this billboard a document of the past or is it the future we face as citizens?"
Banner Image Credit: Twitter, @The_book_girl