LAURENS, SC (AP) – Not many years ago in a small town in South Carolina’s rural Piedmont region stood The Redneck Shop, a racist emporium and Ku Klux Klan museum housed in an old theater, where white supremacist neo-Nazis gave heil-Hitler salutes and flaunted swastikas and Rebel flags.
But that building, once the property of the Klan, now belongs to a black preacher and committed foe of racism who plans to transform it into a shrine of reconciliation.
How Rev. David Kennedy got ownership of the old Echo Theater building from an ex-Klansman, a man who once contemplated murdering Kennedy is now the subject of a movie that could end up raising funds for that transformation.
A decade ago, the white supremacist store was a place where one of the few shirts sold without a racial slur said, “If I had known this was going to happen, I’d picked my own cotton.”
The World-Famous Ku Klux Klan Museum with its racist meeting place was in the back.
The KKK had put the title in the name of a trusted member, Michael Burden. Burden says other Klan members had once suggested that he kill Kennedy, and he considered it.
Kennedy didn’t know that when he saw Michael Burden, hungry, poor and full of hate and took him to a buffet to fill his stomach, then to a hotel so his family wouldn’t have to sleep on the street.
Burden’s girlfriend at the time kept urging him to leave the Klan and in 1997, he did.
He also bestowed ownership of the old theater building upon Kennedy for $10.
But there was a twist.
Under the agreement, John Howard, who owned The Redneck Shop, would be allowed to stay and run his store as long as he lived.
Howard abandoned the store years ago, ignoring maintenance and ripping duct work and piping from the walls.
And in 2017, he finally died, giving Kennedy complete control over the building.
Kennedy estimates it needs at least $500,000 in repairs that must be done carefully because of the theater’s age and historic location.
That seems impossible for the minister whose tiny New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church congregation meets in a converted gun store several miles west of Laurens.
But a movie may provide a Hollywood ending.
The unlikely friendship between Kennedy and Burden has been made into a movie that will be released nationally on Feb. 28.
101 Studios, which produced the film called “Burden,” promises Kennedy they will help repair and reopen the theater so it can become a museum of reconciliation and diversity and into what Kennedy calls “a building of love.”