Mississippi residents unsure of controversial billboard's intent

Political action committee For Freedoms put up this billboard in Pearl, Mississippi.

Story highlights

  • "Make America Great Again" appears on Civil Rights-era protest photo
  • Residents don't understand artistic intent
  • Group says it's meant to start conversation about what makes America great

(CNN)A provocative roadside billboard in Mississippi that mixes art and politics has united onlookers in anger and confusion.

The sign on Highway 80 outside Pearl features President-elect Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," superimposed on a well-known Civil Rights-era image by photographer Spider Martin. The famous "Two Minute Warning" photo shows a group of protesters including Hosea Williams and John Lewis confronting state troopers moments before violence broke out on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, in the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" conflict.
    The photo was taken moments before troopers unleashed tear gas on protesters and beat them with billy clubs before sending dozens to jail.
    Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has called the billboard imagery divisive and the mayor of Pearl wants it gone. Otherwise, people aren't sure what to make of it.
    "I don't really know what to think," 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."
    Is it racist? Maybe, Pearl resident Madison Hall told WLBT. Or, it could be there "to show that cops are there to protect you, and they're there to help you."
    If people are talking about the billboard then it's working, said Eric Gottesman, co-founder of For Freedoms, an artist-run political action committee that uses visual media to inspire political engagement. The billboard is part of a national ad campaign that commissioned works from artists and photographers on topics from gun control to campaign finance for billboards, social media memes and public transit ads.