This article appeared in the January 21, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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An Ohio man’s quest to erase hate, one tattoo at a time

Courtesy of Billy White
Zanesville, Ohio, tattoo artist Billy Joe White hugs John LeMaster after covering up his tattoo of a Klansman on his back.
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Hate can fade, but tattoos are permanent. 

That’s where Zanesville, Ohio, tattoo artist Billy Joe White comes in. He started offering free cover-up tattoos after he learned the man who killed Heather Heyer at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was from Ohio. 

Since then, Mr. White has covered about 100 racist tattoos, turning symbols ranging from swastikas to Klansmen into such designs as a bald eagle. And the requests keep coming. 

Some of his customers are fathers ashamed of their racist past. John LeMaster said his turning point was when he held his 18-month-old adopted son, an African American. “I just fell in love with him,” Mr. LeMaster told the Zanesville Times Recorder. He was profiled in the 2018 documentary, “Beneath the Ink,” about Mr. White’s work at the Red Rose Tattoo shop.

On Monday, Mr. White got an award from the Ohio Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission. “I’ve seen how it empowers the guy that gets the cover-up,” Mr. White told the Zanesville Times Recorder. “We’re not here to judge. All we’re aiming for is a better world.”

When a racist tattoo no longer reflects someone’s perspective, it becomes a source of shame. “When I finally got everything covered up, I literally had tears in my eyes because it really changed my life,” Mr. LeMaster said. “It don’t matter who you are or what type of life you live, you can change.”

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This article appeared in the January 21, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 01/21 edition