Court rules Black minister owns title to building housing famous KKK shop

The Takeaway

Rev. David Kennedy, a Black pastor in small-town South Carolina, just became the owner of perhaps the most famous Ku Klux Klan museum and shop in America.

For more than a decade, Kennedy has been trying to gain ownership of the historic theatre that has housed the museum. An associate of the man who founded the museum, John Howard, a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, gave the title to the building to Kennedy after experiencing a religious awakening.

The theatre has a history of racism, first as a movie theatre where blacks were required to enter through a side door, long before The Redneck Shop even moved in. But now the building, the Echo Theatre, belongs to Kennedy’s New Beginnings Baptist Church, after a circuit court judge ruled that Howard’s efforts to keep him from taking ownership of the building, were not legal.

If not for Michael Burden, Howard might still have the title to the theatre. In the late 90s, Howard threw Burden and his wife and her two kids out of the building where they were living. He’s deeded him the building a few years earlier. Kennedy’s church took in the Burdens, according to The New York Times, and in order to raise money, Burden eventually sold the deed to the theater to Kennedy.

“I thought it was strange for him to ask, because of the arrogance and pride in the Klan. But when you hit rock bottom, things start happening,” Kennedy said.

Howard has tried to argue that because of Burden’s drinking, a long-running problem, he did not have the mental capacity to sell the building.

Kim Severson, Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Times, said The Redneck Shop became notorious since it opened. Severson said the decade-long effort to wrest control of the theatre is really a tale of small towns and relationships — only culminating in the court decision.

“Rev. Kennedy had long watched the shop. When the scene happened, and (Burden) was thrown out of the shop…Rev. Kennedy and some of his church members took in the family,” Severson said. “They gave them water. They put them in a hotel room.”

Burden’s wife had a religious conversion, joined Kennedy’s church and renounced Howard and his white supremacist teachings. Burden did as well, but after a time left the church and returned to Howard.

Under the terms of the deed, Howard has a life-time lease on the lobby where The Redneck Shop operates. However a judge has ordered Howard to pay Kennedy more than $3,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs. If he does not, then the lease would be foreclosed on and Kennedy’s church could get not only the lobby, but also the contents inside, the Times said.

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