After a four-year legal battle, a black Baptist church in South Carolina now is the legal owner of a building housing the infamous Redneck Shop, which operates a Ku Klux Klan museum and sells KKK and other racist clothing.
The Rev. David Kennedy, a long-time civil rights activist and pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Laurens, S.C., told Hatewatch today he can't wait to turn the racist landmark “into a place of diversity.”
“I don't want that business there,” Kennedy said. “When our church takes over in full, that's when that business will end. Basically, we just think it's a matter of time - but soon.”
The minister said he already has been approached by civic leaders in Laurens and others who have discussed turning the building into a fine arts center for youth or an auditorium for civic events. There also are discussions about moving the New Beginnings church into the building, but some members of the congregation are fearful of repercussions. “I don't want fear to overtake us again,” Kennedy said Thursday.
“There's even talk about turning it into a theater again,” Kennedy said.
“At this point, we know it will be a place of diversity - where diversity isn't talked about but lived and celebrated,” he told Hatewatch.
Kennedy didn't rule out the possibility of allowing the current tenant, former Klan leader John Howard, to peacefully remove his racist merchandise.
The Redneck Shop has received extensive media attention, including an ABC Primetime segment showing store inventories of T-shirts depicting white boys urinating on black boys.
Kennedy also has been involved in a number of civil rights battles in South Carolina, including the state's refusal to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome. Because of that activism, Kennedy said, he and his church have been targeted with Nazi and Confederate graffiti and dead animals. Those hate crimes have spread fear among his 200-member congregation, Kennedy said, and its size has dwindled in recent months.
With the court ruling clearing up the ownership issue, Kennedy said he sees brighter days ahead.
A state circuit judge in Greenwood, S.C., ruled last month that the New Beginnings Baptist Church is the legal owner of the building and, therefore, controls the space now being used by the shop.
The building in Laurens, about 70 miles northwest of Columbia, is an old segregated movie theater named after 18th century slave trader Henry Laurens, The Associated Press reported.
The title to the building was transferred in 1997 to Kennedy and his church, which now holds services in a double-wide mobile home in a rural area about two miles from Laurens.
The man who transferred the title of the building was feuding with Howard and “developed a spiritual relationship” with Kennedy's church, the judge wrote in a Dec. 9 ruling. A clause in the deed said Howard, a former KKK grand dragon in the Carolinas, could operate his Redneck Shop until he dies. That clause triggered the ownership lawsuit filed in 2008 against Howard. He has declined comment on whether he will appeal the circuit court's ruling.