Black Preacher To Turn 'World's Only Klan Museum' Into A Racial Healing Community Center
The recently founded Echo Project has raised more $375,000 to renovate and the former KKK meeting place and white supremacist museum.
January 18, 2021 at 3:19 pm
Two South Carolina men have formed an organization to renovate a once well-established place of segregation and white supremacy into a place for racial healing and remembrance.
Officially forming the Echo Project in 2019, Laurens, South Carolina, residents Regan Freeman and the Rev. David Kennedy have so far raised more than $375,000 to transform the historic Echo Theatre, later the Redneck Shop and once known as the "World's Only Klan Museum," into a community center that will recognize its racist history while also promoting the fight against racial injustices, according to CNN.
“A man with a Confederate flag today got closer to the halls of power in the U.S. Capitol than anybody did 150 years ago. That’s why this is so necessary. We need to show what justice and reconciliation looks like — and why we must stand against hatred.” https://t.co/3CZiZigZo5
— The Echo Project (@EchoProjectSC) January 8, 2021
"We don't want to just have a museum to tell this story, the struggle for justice, and the fight against the Klan, but we also want to detail what happened here to make sure it never happens again," Freeman told CNN.
In the 1950s, the Echo Theatre was a segregated movie theatre. In 1996, it became the Redneck Shop, a place that sold white nationalist, neo-Nazi and Klan paraphernalia and Confederate memorabilia before it was forced to close in 2012. The Redneck Shop was actually owned by Klan members, John Howard and Michael Burden, who coined the establishment "World's Only Klan Museum" and allowed it to serve as a meeting spot for white nationalist groups.
Kennedy had fought for years to have the establishment closed, according to CBS News. Having formed an incredibly unlikely friendship with Burden, in which the reverend sought to protect the Klansman from harm, as depicted in the 2018 film, Burden, Kennedy was given the deed to the building. But it came with the clause that Howard would run the store until his death. Howard and Kennedy later sued each other for the building's rights.
In 2012, a judge ruled that Kennedy's church, New Beginnings Baptist Church, was the rightful owner of the shop, per the deed. As such, Kennedy immediately closed the establishment and began his plans for renovating the property and its mission. Originally deciding that the building would house his church, which at the time was operating out of a double-wide trailer.
"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 CBS News in 2008. "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."
Once officially awarded the rights to the building, Kennedy declined to speak on his plans for the establishment, according to The Associated Press. However, in 2018, the plan became clear and he began working with partners, including Freeman to start the process.
“[Echo] has sort of told stories. It’s sort of the tagline we’re running with,” Freeman said. “It told films, and then it told the worst story imaginable. And this man, here, helped change that. It’s his story. His church has the deed to the property, and we get the chance to tell that next chapter. There are decades, if not centuries, of history here.”
Now with nearly $400,000 to implement plans in the thick of new and widely-publicized racial injustices, the two men who now serve the Echo Project, Freeman as the executive director, have announced detailed plans, which include the property becoming a more inclusive museum that will house items from the Redneck Shop and some of Howard's white supremacy belongings. The project will also feature classrooms and curriculum inspired by the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Mississippi and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, according to The Post and Courier.
“It blows my mind that this (legacy of racism) is not taught in South Carolina schools,” Freeman told The Post and Courier. “The people now online are the ideological descendants of these (propagandists). You have got to know about this to combat that. You have got to tell the truth.”
The Echo Project is still raising funds for its new mission. According to the organization's website, the Project is a "nonprofit dedicated to healing racial division and standing against hatred through dialogue, empathy and understanding." The website prominently features the hashtag #RehabHate with the words also serving as its web address.
Details on when the new museum will open have not yet been released.