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Black church awarded KKK shop

Published time: January 03, 2012 22:02
Edited time: January 04, 2012 02:02
Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

If you find yourself outside of Columbia, South Carolina and need to purchase any neo-Nazi memorabilia, you better act fast. The future of Laurens, SC’s Redneck Shop — and its inventory of KKK robes and even its backroom “Klan Museum” is in doubt.

That’s assuming, of course, that the owner of the building will follow through with plans to pull the plug on the mid-Atlantic’s number-one destination for confederate flag woven patches and “Racial Purity is America’s Security” bumper stickers. Given that ownership is now officially in the name of Rev. David Kennedy, a civil rights hero that leads the predominantly black New Beginnings Baptist Church, chances of walking into his building and purchasing a Robert E. Lee switchblade might soon be slim to none.

Rev. Kennedy helped lobby to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome in South Carolina and protested against a county that wanted to not recognize Martin Luther King Day. One of his longest battles, however, has been with the Redneck Shop, a kitschy repository of racial hatred in the small town of Laurens. The shop has been located in the site of an old local movie theatre since 1996, but in 1997 the ownership of the building was transferred to Red. Kennedy after the former owner, an ex-Klansman, had a dispute with his hooded brethren and seceded from the sect.

Since ’97, Rev. Kennedy has tried to close the shop. A condition in the lease, however, allowed shop proprietor John Howard to continue running the business until his death. Still alive and kicking it, Howard has kept Rev. Kennedy from inspecting his shop for years, which prompted the church pastor to take the matter of who-runs-what to the court. Now three years after he started a legal battle to have control over the shop, a judge has ruled that all of the building — including the controversial shop — belongs to Kennedy and his church.

Additionally, Howard will be stuck paying for Kennedy’s legal fees of around $3,300.

"Racism is fresh and alive and on the rise and the KKK's Redneck Shop revealed this. We can sit back and continue to be no involvement people or we can try to make this the number one county for the world to take note of," Rev. Kennedy told Dateline Carolina after he first filed suit against the shop back in 2008. Since getting the building in 1997, Rev. Kennedy has tried to tackle the problem of having the Redneck Shop operate on his property. With the court case coming to a close, a judge has ruled that he can do with the building as he pleases.

"Our ownership puts an end to that history as far as violence and hatred, racism being practiced in that place and also the recruiting of the Klan," Kennedy told USA Today at the dawn of his fight. "This is the same place that we had to go up into the balcony to go to the movies before the Klan took it. So there's a lot of history there."

That history now belongs to Kennedy and his church. Howard, former grand dragon of the Carolina’s KKK chapter, deferred questioning of the matter to the Associated Press to his attorneys when asked about the judge’s recent verdict.

Rev. Kennedy, however, was quick to salute the decision and said it was an outcome he was all too certain of.

"It has been a long time coming," Kennedy told the AP of his victory. "We knew we had done everything right. … The court knows that we have suffered."

Kennedy has not revealed his latest plans for the site, but tells the AP, "I don't count anything out.”

"I think that the church would do good in that building,” adds the religious leader.

In 2008, Kennedy told the AP of his fight, "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."

For Rev. Kennedy, that battle against bigotry has finally prevailed. The next move will likely be to liquidate all of those white robes and “Ban the NAACP” bumper stickers that Howard has been hawking all these years.