The For Freedoms Billboard

Archived: Billboard with Civil Rights Photograph and 'Make America Great Again' Causes Outrage

Residents of Mississippi were angered over a billboard that appeared in Pearl, Mississippi, with President-elect Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan imposed on a historic civil rights photograph. Super PAC For Freedoms, the group that constructed the billboard, has since agreed to take it down following the backlash.

The original image is called “Two Minute Warning” and shows civil rights leaders and Alabama police officers just minutes before “Bloody Sunday” in 1965.

The billboard goes beyond just the town of Pearl, according to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who said of the group and its billboard, “It’s disappointing that this group would use this image as an attempt to divide the country.”

The response on social media spoke to the nationwide dialogue on race in America, which was set off during Trump’s divisive campaign for the presidency. The conversation has only intensified following his recent decisions to appoint white nationalists and racists to positions of power in the White House.

“The decision to put it up in Pearl was really because we wanted to put it up along 80 which was part of the site that people walked along in 65 in the march from Selma,” Hank Thomas, one of For Freedom’s co-founders, reported to News Mississippi. “We could not get a billboard in Alabama for some reason but we know the history of the fight for voting rights is connected in Alabama and Mississippi.”

Another co-founder, Eric Gottesman, explained that the group was trying to spark a conversation. “What we’re trying to do is use art to provoke people to talk about these things and bring them to a different kind of conversation, one that goes beyond symbolic gestures of what America is supposed to stand for,” he said.

The billboard has been misinterpreted as being pro-Trump, according to Thomas. And despite bearing his widely known campaign slogan, it is not meant to endorse any candidate or political party.

“I really want us to start to ask harder questions like, ‘Well what do you mean when you say make America great again'” Thomas said.

According to its website, “For Freedoms encourages new forms of critical discourse surrounding the upcoming 2016 presidential election. Our medium for this project is American democracy, and our mission is to support the effort to reshape it into a more transparent and representative form.”

“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,” said Gottesman. “Is this billboard a document of the past or is it the future we face as citizens”

The name “For Freedoms” is a play off of Norman Rockwell’s artistic depiction of PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, which were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

History of ‘Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Two Minute Warning’

“Bloody Sunday” refers to a civil rights protest on March 7, 1965, when activists were marching from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama. It was the first of three scheduled marches. Activists were planning to go to Montgomery to talk to Gov. George Wallace about the shooting death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot by a police officer while leaving a protest with his mother.

An estimated 600 marchers gathered on March 7. When they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge and entered Dallas County the unarmed protesters were confronted by a group of state troopers, who used tear gas on and beat protesters. More than 50 people were reportedly hospitalized.

“Two Minute Warning” was taken in 1965 in Alabama by James “Spider” Martin, who was a 25-year-old white photographer for The Birmingham News.

Martin passed away in 2003, but in a previous interview he explained the origin of the photo.

“About midnight I get this phone call from the chief photographer and he says ‘Spider, we need to get you to go down to Marion, Alabama.’ Says there’s been a church burned and there’d been a Black man who was protesting killed,” Martin said. “He was shot with a shotgun. His name was Jimmie Lee Jackson.”

Martin’s now-famous photo depicts the protesters and the state troopers just moments before the event became violent. According to Martin, being a photographer on the scene made him just as much of a target as the activists.

“[A state trooper] walks over to me and, blow! Hits me right here in the back of the head,” Martin recalled. “I still got a dent in my head and I still have nerve damage there. I go down on my knees and I’m like seeing stars and there’s tear gas everywhere. And then he grabs me by the shirt and he looks straight in my eyes and he just dropped me and said, ‘scuse me. Thought you was a n**ger.'”

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