What do you think of this billboard in Pearl?
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What do you think of this billboard in Pearl?

Local sign questions America's greatness.

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What do you think of this billboard in Pearl?
Spider Martin

Gov. Phil Bryant has condemned the billboard as "divisive," while the mayor of Pearl called for its removal. Others like Pearl resident Madeline Nixon told CNN affiliate WLBT, "It's definitely offensive, but it's their right at the same time. And that's what we as people need to understand: That everyone is entitled to their First Amendment."

Residents of Pearl have reported mixed feelings about the sign on Highway 80 outside their city. Many express uncertainty as to what it means.

But Eric Gottesman, co-founder of For Freedoms (a political action committee led by artists), explained that the billboard is part of a national ad campaign. The campaign commissioned art from photographers and other artists to address controversial topics such as gun control and campaign finance. The art is then displayed on social media memes, billboards and public transit ads.

The billboard displays the President-elect's slogan, "Make America Great Again," over a famous image by photographer Spider Martin that depicts the Civil Rights era. Called "Two Minute Warning," the photo depicts protesters like Hosea Williams and John Lewis confronting state troopers in Selma, Alabama.

In a moment later called the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" conflict, troopers unleashed tear gas on the protesters, beat them with billy clubs, and arrested them.

From CNN's coverage:

There's no single goal or intent behind the Pearl billboard, [Gottesman] said. It's not irony or satire, anti-Trump or pro-Clinton. Using "Make America Great Again" was meant to prompt the question when was America great?

The artists initially hoped to advertise the image in Selma, but Gottesman said that no billboard spaces were available. So the group found alternatives in Southern areas that had seen testy race relations. For that reason, the billboard's location near an airport named after Medgar Evers seems especially poignant. After fighting for American civil rights, he was assassinated in his driveway.

"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 said. "Is this billboard a document of the past or is it the future we face as citizens?"

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