Despite building's ownership by African American church, proprietor was able to operate center of Klan activity, racist merchandise for years.
One of the more colorful figures on the racist right of the past couple of decades — longtime Ku Klux Klan leader John Howard of Lauren, South Carolina — has passed quietly.
Howard, 71, died at his home Wednesday, September 6. An obituary at the local funeral home only listed his activities as a member of the Odd Fellows, said he was the “last surviving member of his family,” and indicated that, “as per Mr. Howard’s wishes,” there would be no memorial service.
In addition to his civic work, Howard was best known as the longtime proprietor of the “Redneck Shop” in Lauren. In addition to selling full KKK robes and regalia, along with a selection of racist and pro-Confederate T-shirts, patches and stickers, the shop was also known as a longtime Klan organizing center.
The shop was located in the building housing the local Echo Theater — a building that was in fact owned by an African American church in Lauren. The church’s pastor, the Rev. David Kennedy, explained that the church had purchased the building in 1997 on behalf of a protégé of Howard’s named Michael Burden, Jr., who had convinced Kennedy that he had renounced his white-supremacist beliefs and was converting the store into a non-racist enterprise.
Burden, Howard and Kennedy were the subjects of a number of heart-warming stories in the late in 1990s (including an ABC America Primetime Live segment), describing the ex-Klansmen’s renunciation of their hateful ways and reconciliation with their black neighbors. The rapprochement came about largely due to business dealings. Howard had deeded the building to Burden in 1994, but after a 1996 falling out with Howard, Burden and his family were taken in under the wing of Rev. Kennedy and his church. In order to help the family, and believing Burden’s tales that he had converted his views, Kennedy bought the property from him.
However, one of the stipulations of Burden’s original deed was that Howard be allowed to maintain the shop in the building until he died. As a result, Kennedy spent years trying to evict him from the premises — even though Howard would call the police whenever a black person came into the shop.
“Every time I went over there, they would call the police and prevent me from going in,” Kennedy told Hatewatch in 2008. That’s a policy that John Howard long extended to black passersby. In 2006, when the shop was headquarters for that year’s gathering of the Aryan Congress, Intelligence Report noted the reaction of Howard to a black child pedaling a bicycle past his store: “There’s a nigger there I’d like to hang.”
Visitors to the shop would record videos of Howard holding forth on the virtues of the Klan, claiming that it really wasn’t a racist organization, and proffering a version of its history straight from The Birth of a Nation: The white post-Civil War violence, he would explain, was a necessary reaction to the omnipresent threat of rape by freed black men.
Howard's obituary noted that he is survived by two sons, a daughter, 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, “and his caregiver, Aaron Campbell of the home.”