Some of the racist material collected over decades by former Ku Klux Klan leader John Howard is seen on Dec. 9, 2020, in Columbia, S. C.. Howard also ran The Redneck Store in Laurens, South Carolina, for decades. The Echo Group is renovating the shop into a community center and racial reconciliation museum. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Some of the racist material collected over decades by former Ku Klux Klan leader John Howard is seen on Dec. 9, 2020, in Columbia, S. C.. Howard also ran The Redneck Store in Laurens, South Carolina, for decades. The Echo Group is renovating the shop into a community center and racial reconciliation museum. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Work begins to turn SC racist store into racial harmony site

Plans to renovate shop and large meeting hall where hooded Klan members met

Regan Freeman had spent more than a year organizing a project to tell the story of a Black South Carolina pastor who reached out to Ku Klux Klan members who wanted him dead because of his race.

Freeman thought he knew the story well. Then came a tweet that led to two gray storage tubs of some of the most racist newspapers, flyers, posters, photographs and other material he had ever seen.

That brought Rev. David Kennedy’s struggles as well as his patience, love and caring for all men — even those with evil in their hearts — into sharper focus for Freeman, who is working to turn what was once a store filled with racist merchandise into a diversity centre and museum on racial reconciliation.

Freeman was born three months after the Redneck Shop and World’s Only Klan Museum, adorned with Confederate flags and a swastika on a back wall, opened in 1996 in Laurens. He has raised more than $300,000 to renovate the historic Echo Theater, which was a segregated movie theatre before housing the shop and a large meeting hall where dozens of hooded Klan members met in the back.

Freeman wants to collect the stories of Black people around Laurens whose ancestors struggled through slavery and segregation and maybe take on other projects like putting up historical markers at the site of each of the more than 150 known lynchings of Black people in the state.

“There are so many stories out there that haven’t been told or we haven’t told completely,” Freeman said.

And that led him to those gray plastic tubs.

In October, he replied to a tweet by a woman who now owns the land where Redneck Shop owner John Howard lived letting the Southern Poverty Law Center know she had a ton of his stuff.

The woman didn’t respond, so Freeman drove up himself and after a unannounced visit, some negotiation and $500, he had decades of stuff marking Howard’s racist life.

There are negatives of cross burnings. Posters of Adolph Hitler. A “Klan Rally Instructions” manual. A flyer called “A Boat Ticket To Africa” with horribly offensive Black caricatures and stereotypes. A business card Klan members would leave to intimidate Black families that said this was a social visit and “don’t make the next visit a business call.”

“This stuff isn’t from 100 years ago. Some of it is maybe from the last decade or two,” Freeman said. “I think it is important to see it and see how deep this hate goes so you can see why we need to fight so hard to change.”

Freeman plans to have historians at the University of South Carolina help him look through the items with an eye toward preservation and display the ones that best tell a story in exhibits at the theatre.

A Klan member named Michael Burden, who was once considering killing Kennedy, sold the theatre to the pastor in 1997 after Kennedy helped him out when he and Howard had a falling out. But Burden’s deal let Howard keep leasing the theatre for the Redneck Shop. Kennedy finally won a 15-year court fight and shut the shop down. The story became the movie “Burden” released earlier this year.

Now Freeman is leading the project to turn the old theatre into Kennedy’s dream of a community centre where racial reconciliation and harmony is at the forefront.

“We’re hoping The Echo Project will become a place where every race could be respected — a place where diversity is not only just talked about, but is celebrated through action,” Kennedy said.

Freeman grew up in nearby Clinton, and while at the University of South Carolina, felt pulled to talk to Kennedy about his work. Kennedy asked him to lead the project and Freeman gave up a law firm job for his new calling.

“This is a chance to tell a great story,” Freeman said.

An architect and construction firm have been chosen, with work starting soon, and Freeman plans to relaunch the Echo Project’s website to expand its reach.

“To be a part of a project that can use architecture and inflict change at the same time is huge for me,” MOA Architecture Founder Michael Allen said.

The first bit of work for the companies? Scraping off a Confederate flag sticker on the marquee for decades and replacing it with the project’s name and website.

“It needs to be the opposite of a dilapidated old building that stands as a shrine to hatred,” said David Walker, manager for the project for Sodexo’s Construction and Infrastructure Services.

By The Associated Press

racism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An ice sculpture of a bee with a timely message was created near the Ross Street Patio. It’s party of a Downtown Business Association initiative to draw more people downtown to support local businesses. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Ice sculptures created to draw more people to downtown Red Deer

Three sculptures can be seem at various venues

(Black Press file photo)
Police seeking suspects in Bowden armed robbery

Man was beaten and robbed of his wallet

Many students and staff at St. Joseph High School are in COVID-19 quarantine. (File photo by Advocate staff)
COVID cases: Red Deer school reverts back to at-home learning

Majority of students under COVID-19 quarantine

Red Deer RCMP say Alexander King was last seen about a month ago. (Contributed)
Red Deer teen reported missing

RCMP ask for public’s assistance

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says it’s not appropriate for former… Continue reading

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

pe
Too many new pet owners, not enough vets make getting animal care a problem

CALGARY — Dr. Liz Ruelle says it was a difficult decision to… Continue reading

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP officer in Alberta charged with off-duty sexual assault in Edmonton

EDMONTON — Alberta’s police watchdog says an RCMP officer has been charged… Continue reading

Canada’s 29th Governor General Julie Payette looks on alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Senate chamber during her installation ceremony, in Ottawa on Monday, October 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says GG vetting process needs improvement after Payette resigns

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s admission Friday that he might have… Continue reading

NDP member of Parliament Lindsay Mathyssen speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP warns of long delays in equal pay for women in federal pay equity rules

OTTAWA — The federal New Democrats say new rules to close a… Continue reading

President Joe Biden waves as he departs after attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. Less than a week after the economic gut punch of cancelling Keystone XL, Canada is bracing for more bad news today from the White House. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Patrick Semansky
U.S. president to sign executive orders enacting stringent new Buy American regimen

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after the economic gut punch of… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital Tuesday December 15, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt

Some Canadian health-care workers are being told they’ll have to wait longer… Continue reading

Most Read