By Allen Duncan
Special Sections Editor
He called it a Double Dutch Bus.
“I used to have a van that I made with a double top on it. It was an old mail truck, steering wheel on the right-hand side. I took the front of a Monte Carlo, the headlights and the nose, and put it on the front of the mail truck, then I took the camper top off the back of an old Ford pickup truck and put it on top of the mail truck. I cut a hole on the inside, that way I could go up on top, and I used to call it the Double Dutch Bus,” said James “Double Dutch” Kimble. He became known around town for his ride.
Savannahians who drive along East Broad Street see the Black Holocaust Memorial, sometimes on a daily basis, but few know the man of the community who created the sculpture. Kimble may do body work outside his home to pay the bills, but this craftsman is also a giving mentor to local children and member of the Savannah chapter of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP).
“The New Black Panther Party is a black military, is what it is. Mostly, right now, what we’re focusing on is trying to get these young kids to get theyselves together. ‘Cause the kids that’s out here’s not my momma’s kids, not my grandmomma’s kids, they’re the kids that we have, as men,” said Kimble. “We try to be like a mentor to the ones that don’t have nobody, and try to steer ‘em in the right direction.”
He works with papier-mâché before he paints his pieces and seals them with a water-thinned silicon that gives them a weatherproof, rubberized glaze. He picks colorful, creative subjects, including windmills and an office chair-turned rolling astronaut. It includes a jet pack.
“I put kid-like things out, so that when the kids do come by, maybe they think about being a kid again, instead of all this other stuff that they’re seeing goin’ on in the community.”
Older passersby can enjoy Kimble’s creations too. He puts them out in plain view to try and brighten the neighborhood on sunny days.
Every Halloween, Kimble hosts a block party as a safe alternative for neighborhood children, featuring a haunted house he made and decorated with his art.
“I throw a Halloween party every year for the small kids in the community, so they have some place to go,” said Kimble. “They can stay right in the area, party in here for a little bit, and just go right to the houses that’s right in the community.”
Still, he is probably best known for the Black Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is a response to the African-American Monument designed by Savannah College of Art and Design professor Dorothy Spradley, erected July 27, 2002 on River Street. That monument shows a post-Emancipation family of four former slaves embracing happily. Chains lay at their feet. Kimble made the Black Holocaust Memorial to try to offer a more honest depiction, for better or for worse.
“It’s a family,” said Kimble, “standin’ on the corner. But that’s not how they brought the slaves to Savannah. I made [the memorial] so they could really see how they were brought over here.”
In Kimble’s memorial, the family is being torn apart. A man stands alone in chains and rags on the block on one side of the house-shaped sculpture. The NBPP panther crouches, rendered and painted in three-dimensional relief. A sign to the side reads “This memorial protected by members of the Black Panther Party.”
The protection only came in handy once before. The memorial was vandalized by a neighbor, Kimble said, in a drunken reenactment of the 2003 toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square. Kimble declined to name the vandal. True to his character, Kimble wasn’t upset and remembered the night in laughter.
“He got a DUI on the same night,” said Kimble. “His momma was p—–, man.”
Kimble looks for ways to help his city and motivate Savannah’s misguided youth, and he’s always optimistic about the chance to reach youths before it’s too late.
“Maybe if enough of those young guys look at those chains on that man, then they’ll think about getting’ themselves into somethin’, and getting’ the damn handcuffs put on them.”