News January 19, 2021 at 12:17 pm

The Black man converting the ‘World’s Only Klan Museum’ into a community center to promote healing

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

Francis Akhalbey January 19, 2021 at 12:17 pm

January 19, 2021 at 12:17 pm | News

Rev. David Kennedy is transforming the Redneck Shop into a community center. The shop was once regarded as the “World's Only Klan Museum” -- Photo Credit: Patrick Collard / AP

An infamous White Supremacist shop and museum in South Carolina that was also the meeting place of the Ku Klux Klan and was once regarded as the “World’s Only Klan Museum”, is set to be converted into a community center in an effort to educate and combat racial injustice.

The project is being spearheaded by Rev. David Kennedy, pastor of the New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, and Regan Freeman. The two are the founders of the Echo Project – a “nonprofit dedicated to healing racial division and standing against hatred through dialogue, empathy, and understanding.”

Formerly known as the Redneck Shop, the establishment, which is situated on the same building as the now-closed and previously segregated Echo Theater in downtown Laurens, was opened in 1996 until it was forced to ultimately shut down in 2012, according to CNN. The shop once sold White nationalist and neo-Nazi paraphernalia as well as Confederate memorabilia and Klan attire.

“We don’t want to just have a museum to tell this story, the struggle for justice, and the fight against the Klan, but we also want to detail what happened here to make sure it never happens again,” Freeman told the news outlet. “The Echo Theater went from being a segregated movie theater to a literal Klan’s store to being in the possession of a Black minister, and it is about to become a place for reconciliation, justice and healing.”

Following the opening of the shop in 1996 by its previous owners and KKK members, John Howard and Michael Burden, Kennedy actively and vehemently protested against its operation and called for its closure – an action that put him in the bad books of the KKK. The Klan members even contemplated killing him at a certain point.

Things, however, took a very positively shocking turn when Kennedy surprisingly became friends with Burden after the latter had a dispute with his former partner, Howard. Kennedy told CNN he offered Burden security as well as accommodation and food for him and his family despite his background. Their unlikely friendship inspired the 2018 true-life movie, Burden.

After the two established their friendship, Burden, in need of cash, sold the property’s deed to Kennedy and his church, The Post and Courier reported. Burden had earlier become the owner of the property in 1997. A clause in the deed agreement, however, stated Kennedy was prohibited from doing anything to the property until Howard passed away.

The shop was, however, forced to close in 2012 after a judge declared Kennedy and his church as the rightful owners of the property following a 15-year court battle between the preacher and Howard.

With that being sorted, Kennedy later set his sights at transforming the shop, with Freeman eventually partnering with him. The two have so far raised over $375,000 to convert the building into a community center. Upon completion, the new establishment will showcase paraphernalia and memorabilia from the Redneck Shop, as well as set up educational classrooms, all with the aim of fostering remembrance and reconciliation, CNN reported.

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