Racist Billboard Owner in Armstrong County Jabs at Sunoco in Latest Narrative Twist

As we’ve been talking this week about racist behavior by a School Board Director in Peters Township (and his wife’s opposition to considering a non-discrimination ordinance on the Peters Township Council), it seems like a good time to drop back in to Worthington, Armstrong County and see what the racist billboard has to say.

You recall that Sunoco terminated the contract with billboard owner and former-franchisee John Placek, sending trucks to haul away the branded signs. When we last heard from John Placek, he was going to erect two additional billboards and vowed he would not give in to Sunoco’s tactics. It wasn’t clear what “not giving in” meant since other gasoline companies were stating they would not consider working with him.


They have gotten away with their horrible behavior for decades. They didn’t just pop up in 2016. They have been doing this for many years and people in both Worthington and Peters Township have allowed them to do so.


After Sunoco took action, it seemed as if the family had stepped in and laid down the law on Placek. Maybe? The brother was doing PR. The billboard itself was damaged, repaired, and began advertising benign promotions for bingos and fire department fundraisers.

Here’s the sign up this week:

Worthington Armstrong County billboards
“Sunoco Anti-Free Speech Anti-American”

I cannot tell what the small circles with lines say, but I assume it is some sort of ‘strikeout’ symbolism.

Here’s what has happened in Worthing, Armstrong County to address this situation.

Nothing.

State Representative Jeff Pyle has not yet introduced legislation to zone and permit these giant lit billboards along state highways. To my knowledge, he has not himself engaged in any anti-racism work (a class, workshop, etc) or met with Black residents of his district. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Worthington Borough has not taken any steps to send affirming and welcoming messages to residents and neighbors. They could pass wills of council, they could introduce a local non-discrimination ordinance, and they could also begin looking at zoning for billboards in their community. Again, correct me if I am wrong.

<Can you imagine the powerful message if Worthington proactively created a local Human Relations Commission to send a clear signal about their accountability around discrimination? It would be mind-blowing,>

The Worthington West Franklin Fire Department hasn’t taken any public action. They own the land on which the billboard resides and they have another 16 months or so in their contract with Mr. Placek. At the very least, they need to affirm that they will work with an attorney to redesign future contracts so they have clauses to address this sort of hateful content.

We both know that Placek is biding his time, not slinking away. This shot across the bow indicates that “here we go again” is a reasonable expectation. Who among us thinks he has learned a lesson?

So here is what you can do.

First, Susan Boser is running for the vacant State Senate Seat. It is a special election, not a regular primary so this is decision day between the Republican and the Democrat. Who is more likely to support regulations, zoning, the lives of Black residents in the district, etc?

Second, we can connect the dots – John Placek and William Merrell are not that different. Yes, Worthington is very rural and Placek does not hold public office whereas Merrell lives in a more affluent suburban community while holding office and controlling media resources. But they are both affluent white men with media messaging resources and hateful views. They are haters with power and influence. They have gotten away with their horrible behavior for decades. They didn’t just pop up in 2016. They have been doing this for many years and people in both Worthington and Peters Township have allowed them to do so.

Personally, I think local conversations are incredibly important. I think we should provide resources to folks on the ground in these communities doing this hard work. I believe that local nondiscrimination ordinances are one tool that we can use to develop intersectional responses that are informed by the myriad of experiences of rural neighbors.

I’m going to continue checking in with folx on the ground in both communities. What are you going to do to change this narrative?