INTERVIEW with DAVID TOOLE by COLE NOWICKI - PHOTOS KEVIN KYZER
On July 18th, 2015, South Carolina took a public step away from an ignorant past by removing the Confederate flag that had hung at the State House in its capital, Columbia, since the 60s. The removal was in response to the horrific, racially motivated, shooting at the historically black Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, SC, a month earlier. Unfortunately the withered, desperate bones of once powerful hate group the Klu Klux Klan decided to step into their racist DeLorean, punch it to 88mph, and stage a rally at the event in protest.
A few days before the rally was set to take place David Toole, the owner of Columbia’s premiere skate shop Bluetile Skateboards, and a few friends kicked around the idea of using Jim Thiebaud’s classic 1990 “Hanging Klansman” graphic to counter protest the KKK. Following a friendly inquiry over Instagram the lark became a reality and stirred strong social media reactions. I caught up with David via email to talk about how everything came together, the response, and how disturbing it is that the graphic is still relevant sixteen-years later.
KS: The KKK rally at the South Carolina State House a few weeks back was surprising and sickening; I had thought the KKK was a hate group thankfully on its deathbed. Do they still have a prevalent presence in South Carolina? Do you see them in full regalia at Walmart buying Tide-To-Go sticks or anything like that?
DT: Perhaps it’s living inside the bubble of skateboarding but I honestly didn’t know they really had a presence at all. I guess in the back of your mind you know they exist but you never really think anyone takes them seriously. And honestly I don’t think too many people do take them seriously. I guess they have about 5000 members nationwide from what I’ve read? I could be way off. I haven’t looked into it too much.
Having said that, it did blow my mind that they were able to speak on state house grounds. I posted some stuff about how I couldn’t believe they were even allowed to speak and I did get some “dude, its called freedom of speech” from a few folks in the Facebook and Instagram realm. So apparently even terrorist hate groups have freedom of speech? I mean this is a group of folks in the not so distant past who were/are known for hanging people, beating people to death or even burning their houses or churches down. How that is not considered terrorism is beyond me.
I went to the rally expecting to hear some really fucked up politics or some strange stretch of the bible that condoned their message. That was not what I heard at all. They had not planned to speak at all. They had no bullhorn; they had no PA. They had no way to convey any message at all. They just marched up the steps with their Nazi and confederate flags and screamed hateful shit at people. It was incredibly ignorant.
I guess that speaks to how depleted they are as a group if they can't even properly organize or develop talking points beyond hurling racial epithets. How did the idea of using Jim Thiebaud's Hanging Klansmen graphic as a protest t-shirt come about?
We were joking about it in the shop. Charles (our resident skateboard and sneaker collector nerd) made the comment about how crazy that would be. Later that night he tagged Jim and Real in an Instagram post dating back to when he posted a pic of the board and t-shirt he got when real released the graphic for Johnny Kicks Cancer. He said, “hey guys how many of these can we get in stock for the KKK rally coming up in Columbia?”
Jim replied back pretty quickly with “print ‘em up!”
The next day I came in to work and Charles was all giggly and freaking out, “did you see what Jim said?” I said yeah I saw it and we talked about how crazy that would be. We were talking about it and I was just telling Charles that I could call and ask Jim if we could get the graphic. We have a four-color press/full print shop on one side of Bluetile. We call it The Diabolical Apparatus. Anyway, as I was saying I could call Jim my phone started ringing and it was a number I didn’t have in my phone. It was Jim. He just asked if we were serious that this rally was real. I said it was and he told me that he was going to send the artwork. I don’t even think I had to ask him. It happened really quickly. He said do what you want with it. Print as many as you like. Of course we were pretty blown away. I got the art from Real’s art department and got to work.
I had no idea it was going to be as big as it was. As soon as I posted that photo of me holding the screen up on the @bluetileSC Insta all of our social media started blowing up. Both my cell phone and my shop phone were blowing up. Even the damn Tumblr was going off! We only bought 100 shirts to give away at the rally. Our budget isn’t the biggest in the world and 100 shirts seemed like enough. That’s kind of our standard run when we are doing to for Go Skate Day or whatever event. That was nowhere near enough. They were gone in seconds and people from all over the world were calling the shop.
I think an hour after I posted the picture Jim called and asked how it was going. I just told him my phone is going nuts and all my social media is on fire. He laughed and said that he was feeling the buzz too. He said that we should let the dust settle and regroup after the rally to discuss how we could use it to generate money for a good cause.
So that’s where we are now. Figuring out what to do with it. I think its pretty much worked out. It’s kind of a no brainer where the money should go. Look up the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund if you would like to donate money to the families who lost loved ones in the gruesome shootings in Charleston, SC.
Donate to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund here: www.bidr.co/prayforcharleston
Did the shirts get a reaction from any Klan members at the rally or otherwise?
I don't recall any specific Klan member interactions. They really didn't have much of a chance to interact with the crowd. They were escorted into the grounds and pretty much chased off the grounds by damn near the entire crowd. They were trapped in a parking garage for a while until just about every type of law enforcement and military personal surrounded the building and created a barricade between the KKK and the crowd just so they could leave. That was pretty intense.
I got a lot of hugs and hand shakes from all types of people at the rally. I didn't even get to hand the shirts out myself. I rolled a case of shirts and a few cases of water into the middle of the crowd using my skateboard. I opened the box, which was directly in front of where the Black Panthers were speaking (oh yeah the panthers were there too), and I said I have free shirts and cold water for whoever wants them. Next thing I know there where hands from all directions grabbing stacks of shirts and calling out to other people asking what size they needed. It was pretty epic. Everyone was nice, genuine, and thankful.
I was definitely nervous walking up to the rally. I got some awful looks and stares from the black community... I'm sure they were just wondering whose side I was on... It was surreal. This is 2015?
I did get a little bit of shit about it being such a violent image. I think the irony is lost on those people. Of course it’s a violent image. It’s one the KKK is known for. It should be offensive and it should be a giant bold underline under the fact that the Klan are a group of terrorists. They are known for hanging people for crying out loud. I personally don’t want to see anyone hanging from a tree but those types of ideals need to be put to rest.
Over the last several months in South Carolina there have been people standing for the removal of the flag from state house grounds. There have also been people standing to support the flag staying right where it is. It’s encouraging to see that those folks are few in number. It was literally a difference of thousands. On days they would have events to show support of the flag coming down there would be a couple thousand folks out there. Then there would be days when fifteen fat, tired, toothless weirdos dressed in confederate battle gear would rally to support the flag staying where it was. It was actually pretty comical.
Chalk one up for the good guys.
David and his shop were devastated by a flood recently. A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help get his house/shop set back up correctly. Skaters need to continue to help skaters. You can also help by purchasing some gear from his store through the website and by phone 1(803)-376-1880. Best of luck getting back on your feet David. Keep fighting the good fight.