A controversial billboard has popped up in the city of Pearl, Mississippi and it has a lot of people talking. The billboard, paid for by the For Freedoms PAC, shows a picture from the 1960s where law enforcement officers are confronting a group of African Americans that were part of the Civil Rights Movement. In white letters across the black and white photo are the words “Make America Great Again.”
According to reports from CNN and Fox 4 News in Kansas City, the residents in the community are “unsure” of what to make of the billboard. We know this billboard is not promoting racism against minorities as it was not put up by members of the Ku Klux Klan or white nationalists. This is not a billboard from Donald Trump supporters saying they are going to suppress minorities or take away their rights. A billboard like that would never be allowed up in the first place. But how do we know for certain that this is not a political message pandering to white nationalists? We know this due to the fact one of the co-founders of the For Freedoms PAC, Hank Willis Thomas, is an African American visual artist. The For Freedoms PAC is not comprised of white nationalists in the slightest.
In an interview with CNN, co-founder Eric Gottesman stated, “There’s no single goal or intent behind the Pearl billboard. It’s not irony or satire, anti-Trump or pro-Clinton.” This statement is laughable. Why put the words “Make America Great Again” across a photo from a time where race relations were at an all-time high? Anyone who has been following national news understands that racial tensions in this country today are rising rapidly. Part of this rising fear is due to the fact many minorities think a Donald Trump presidency is going to result in the loss of their rights and personal freedoms. This billboard or “political art,” as it is described, is capitalizing on those fears. We saw this same fear or sentiment from the cast of Hamilton the other night when they gave a lecture to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence.
This billboard has one message and one message only. That message is that minorities need to fear the coming Donald Trump presidency and that “Make America Great Again” should remind minorities of the oppression they faced in the 1960s. The billboard is in poor taste and there is talk that it should be removed. I say leave the billboard up. The billboard should be left up as it is the PAC's First Amendment right to send out their message, whether I think it is appropriate or not. However, it is not free from public criticism.
Ironically, in the about section of their website the For Freedoms PAC states, “We are frustrated with a system which money, divisiveness, and general lack of truth-telling have stifled complex conversation.” Perhaps the organization should not have paid for a divisive billboard that fans the flames of racial division.