Long-time Klan Headquarters has Unexpected Owner
The Rev. David Kennedy, a black civil rights activist, dreams of moving his church from a double-wide trailer to the building he's owned for more than a decade: The Echo Theater in downtown Laurens, S.C.
For now, however, he cannot even set foot on the property, which houses a store crammed with racist merchandise, including Klan clothing and T-shirts that read, "Ain't Racist, Just Never Met a Nigger I Liked." The store has served as headquarters for two different Klan factions and the neo-Nazi Socialist Movement; in 2006, the Aryan Nations Congress gathered there.
How Kennedy came to own the theater that's home to the World Famous Redneck Shop — and why he still has no control over what happens in the building — is a remarkable story involving a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon, an act of charity and a broken promise.
The previous owner of the property, Michael Burden Jr., was once grand dragon, or state leader, of a South Carolina Klan group. Destitute and struggling to feed his family, he asked Kennedy to buy the building. Kennedy felt compassion for Burden and believed that he'd broken free from his racist past. As a result, Kennedy's New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church purchased the theater for $1,000 on April 22, 1997.
The sale was predicated on one key condition, however: That John Howard, another one-time Klansman, would be able to run the store until his death.
The unusual arrangement, recounted on an ABC America "Prime Time Live" segment, has garnered renewed attention since an Associated Press article on the store was published this spring. Kennedy says the 62-year-old Howard, an avowed racist, won't even let him enter the building. Howard took a different tack when the Associated Press reporter and photographer paid a visit to his shop earlier this year. "Rev. Kennedy, where you been hiding?" he chirped.
Kennedy told the Intelligence Report in March that when he recently went to the courthouse to get a copy of the building's deed, he made a disturbing discovery: Two other documents had been placed on top of it. The first, dated Nov. 16, 2006, indicated that Burden, the former owner, had sold the property to Howard's wife for $10. The second, dated March 30, 2007, showed that Hazel Howard had then sold it to her husband and Nicholas Chappell, an official of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.
"That was placed on top of our deed unjustly and, as far as I'm concerned, illegally," Kennedy said. He hadn't been aware of either transaction.
Kennedy says his lawyer is investigating the matter and believes he will prevail. As Kennedy told the AP: "There are two powers in the world: the mind and the sword. In the long run, the sword is defeated by the mind. I want to destroy the concept of hatred."