JUDGE: Black Church Owns "The Redneck Shop"

After a lengthy legal battle between a black South Carolina church and members of the Ku Klux Klan, a judge has ruled that the church owns a building where KKK robes and T-shirts are sold.

FILE - In a Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008 file photo, Rev. David Kennedy, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church, stands outside The Redneck Shop in Laurens, S.C. A judge has ruled that the New Beginnings Baptist Church is the rightful owner of the building where The Redneck Shop is located. New Beginnings sued John Howard and others in 2008, saying the property was transferred to the church in 1997 by a Klansman fighting with others inside the hate group.(AP Photo/Patrick Collard, File)

After a lengthy legal battle between a black South Carolina church and members of the Ku Klux Klan, a judge has ruled that the church owns a building where KKK robes and T-shirts are sold.

A circuit judge ruled last month that New Beginnings Baptist Church is the rightful owner of the building that houses the Redneck Shop, which operates a so-called Klan museum and sells Klan robes and T-shirts emblazoned with racial slurs. The judge ordered the shop's proprietor to pay the church's legal bills of more than $3,300.

Since 1996, the Redneck Shop has operated in an old movie theater in Laurens, a city about 70 miles northwest from Columbia that was named after 18th century slave trader Henry Laurens.

Ownership of the building was transferred in 1997 to the Rev. David Kennedy and his church, New Beginnings, by a Klansman fighting with others inside the hate group, according to court records. That man, according to Kennedy, was feuding with store proprietor John Howard over a woman and "developed a spiritual relationship" with Kennedy's church, the judge wrote.

But a clause in the deed entitles Howard, formerly KKK grand dragon for the Carolinas, to operate his business in the building until he dies.

After years of trying to have the property inspected, Kennedy and New Beginnings sued Howard and others in 2008. On Dec. 9, a judge ruled in Kennedy's favor.

Reached on his cell phone, Howard said he did not know about the judge's decision and deferred comment to his attorney, who did not immediately return a message.

It wasn't immediately clear if the judge's ruling would mean Howard must close the shop. Howard hung up on a reporter when asked about the shop's status, but an outgoing message on the shop's answering machine said it's only open one morning a week.

Howard has defended his business in the past.

"If anything turns people off, they shouldn't come in here," Howard told The Associated Press in 2008. "It's not a thing in here that's against the law."

The Redneck Shop has been the target of protests and attacks from the start. A few days after it opened, a Columbia man crashed his van through the front windows and was charged with malicious damage to property. High profile black activists have staged several protests outside the store, and Kennedy has regularly picketed there as well.

Kennedy has a long history of fighting racial injustice. He protested when a South Carolina county refused to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and he helped lobby to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome.

Kennedy said Tuesday his congregation was elated by the judge's decision, which he said he had already discussed with local police in hopes of being able to visit and inspect the property this week.

"It has been a long time coming," said Kennedy, who learned of the ruling this week. "We knew we had done everything right. ... The court knows that we have suffered."

Kennedy said his congregation's numbers have decreased in recent years as some of its 200 members became fearful of reprisals from Klan members. Nazi and Confederate symbols have been tacked to the door of the double-wide mobile home where New Beginnings now meets, Kennedy said, and dead animals have been left at the building.

"A lot of people became so afraid," Kennedy said. "I just told them that it is part of our faith to endure."

Kennedy, who has previously said he would like to close the store and hold his church meetings there, declined Tuesday to detail his plans, saying only that he thought some parishioners would feel uncomfortable worshipping in the structure that once segregated moviegoers and now sells Klan-related materials.

"I don't count anything out," Kennedy said. "I think that the church would do good in that building."


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Pigman Location: Seven Springs on Jan 16, 2012 at 08:01 AM
    What does the Confederate flag have to do Dr KIng day ? Today is Robert E Lees birthday it should fly !
  • by Bill Location: ENC on Jan 5, 2012 at 05:19 AM
    This so called Rev now joins the ranks with Jerry Farwell that owns a shoping center that has a building that sells alcohol. Guess he is creating sinners so he can save them on Sunday!
  • by ace Location: j ville on Jan 5, 2012 at 05:17 AM
    I believe in the seperation of church and state but when a church owns a building, business or other profit making enterprise then the church should dissolve their ownership or pay taxes just like everyone else.
  • by pete Location: grifton on Jan 4, 2012 at 06:23 PM
    Is a black racist any better off in GODS eyes than a white racist? both will stand before the judgement throne one day.OH! someone who preaches racial hatred is not a man of GOD.
  • by Formerly O.L.I. Location: ENC on Jan 4, 2012 at 02:39 PM
    I'm a 70's white child, and I would never shop a store full of hateful, evil, cheap products like that one.
  • by anonymous on Jan 3, 2012 at 06:48 PM
    They may own building but if deed states the store can stay there til guying running it dies how does the reverend think he's gonna close it? Guess he' ll be back in court which he will lose! Guess he's not the brightes
  • by anonymous on Jan 3, 2012 at 06:47 PM
    They may own building but if deed states the store can stay there til guying running it dies how does the reverend think he's gonna close it? Guess he' ll be back in court which he will lose! Guess he's not the brightes
  • by 40some on Jan 3, 2012 at 06:30 PM
    That's great. I think that a place that has represented oppression and hatred for so many years should become a church for those it offended so long. The klansman that gave them the building, is now a free man, living a life free of hatred and resentment I hope.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 3, 2012 at 03:40 PM
    WITN....Really? Isn't there enough racial hate on this board for you to post this story? Is that what you thrive on?
  • by Proud Of My Heritage on Jan 3, 2012 at 03:16 PM
    I'm proud of my heritage. If blacks can be proud, why can't whites be proud? The KKK wasn't something MY family was involved in, but I'm sure we benefitted from them being around in the "early days".
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