The Battle of the Billboards Rages On in the South

North Carolina citizens are expressing their free-speech rights peacefully by posting messages expressing their values on billboards, an action that has generated both controversy and conversation. 

By Dave Gahary

A seven-word, anonymous billboard running along a stretch of road between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C. has many locals up in arms, feeling that the message “delivers an antiquated, misogynistic, even transphobic message.” They’ve decided to fight back, by putting up their own billboard, with plans to spread them across not just North Carolina, but the entire country. What are the seven words that so disturbed a “liberal” contingent of the Winston-Salem community last month? “Real Men Provide. Real Women Appreciate It.”

Winston-Salem (population 241,218), nicknamed the “Camel City” (think cigarettes) is the most religious city in the state, and is extremely racially diverse, with a mix of 47% white, 35% black, and 15% Hispanic.

A local business owner, Molly Grace, who was tipped off to the billboard on Facebook, had organized a peaceful protest on Feb. 26 to counter what she and others feel is the sign’s negative message: “that men provide and that women should be thankful.”

American Free Press sat down with Ms. Grace, a white, heterosexual, 30-year-old, single mother of one, who relocated to the Tar Heel state from western Pennsylvania seven years ago. She explained why she was offended by the message and what she is doing about it.

Listen to AFP’s exclusive interview with Molly Grace by clicking the image below.

“The message was a hurtful one, and regardless of what the author intended it to mean— which is still unclear—the words that were chosen send an emotionally harmful message to young girls and boys,” she told AFP.

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Others see the message as extremely positive, especially in the black community, where, as Rev. James David Manning pointed out in an interview with this writer several issues ago:

“What has happened to families, where black men have abdicated their responsibility toward their children, [impregnating] these girls, and then leaving them to fend for themselves, not knowing where their next meal is coming from, living on government handouts, living in rat- and roach-infested buildings . . . this is across the board in the black community.”

Obviously, for that segment of the black community that falls into this category, the slogan “Real Men Provide” takes on a completely different meaning, especially for black women.

Inspired to counter the message, Ms. Grace organized a rebellion of sorts.

“Several people and myself tossed around different ideas of what we could do that would send a more positive message to counter the negative one,” Ms. Grace explained. “We decided that purchasing our own billboard with a positive, all-inclusive version of that message would be a really good way of doing that.”

Those attending the protest event voted and selected “People of Quality Don’t Fear Equality” for the words that will adorn their billboards.

Ms. Grace, who has received nasty phone calls and emails as well as death threats, is not deterred. “We are raising the funds to not only get one billboard in the Winston-Salem area, but we’re actually looking at making this an ongoing project and trying to get the same billboard all over other areas throughout the country,” she explained.

So far the project has garnered $3,627 in donations. “The billboard in Winston-Salem will cost about $2,000,” states the donation website. “We are hoping to exceed that goal and raise $10,000 to purchase several more billboards with the same message around the country.”

Curiously, on March 4, the seven-word billboard that caused such a stink was replaced by a new 39-word one: “Much Ado About Nothing. A social experiment that brought forth those so immersed in their own insecurity that in the mirror they could only see an angry victim of their incorrect interpretation of a silly billboard—Bless their hearts.”

Ms. Grace touched on why this message offends her as well.

“The thing that we were protesting is not ‘nothing,’ so shame on you for trying to tell us that the things that are very important to us are nothing,” she said.

So the next time you’re out driving around the country—wherever you are—keep your eyes peeled for politically motivated billboards. Whether you like their messages or not, it’s a peaceful way to express your opinions and exercise your First Amendment rights. And that’s what free and open debate should be about—not violent tactics in which one group or another tries to physically assault those who hold differing opinions, causing mayhem, property damage and, sometimes, serious physical injury.

Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, prevailed in a suit brought by the New York Stock Exchange in an attempt to silence him.