Ku Klux Klan museum sold to black minister by repentant racist to become ‘beacon of hope’

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A former Ku Klux Klan museum and meeting place which was sold by a repentant racist to a black minister is finally being transformed into a place of hope as its hateful past is put behind it.

For more than 15 years the South Carolina store sold robes and hosted meetings for white supremacists – including supporters of the American Nazi party.

It also sold Confederate memorabilia to sick collectors and was a hub for the KKK, which is responsible for more than 100 years of racist violence and killings.

Now the new owner is fundraising to turn the building in Laurens into a community centre which celebrates diversity.

Kindhearted Reverend David Kennedy brought a share in the shop from former Klansman Michael Burden Jr – and after a long legal battle ownership was finally passed to the  The New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church.

In an astonishing act of forgiveness Rev Kennedy gave Burden a home, food for his family and a place to worship when he decided to put his former life behind him.

In return the ex-Ku Klux Klan member offered the minister the chance to buy a share of the Redneck Store, which finally closed in 2012, having opened in 1996.

The story of Burden’s escape from the clutches of the white supremacist group is told in 2018 movie Burden, starring Forrest Whitaker as Rev Kennedy.

Back in 1997, Burden said, the Washington Post reported : “I want to apologize for causing an eyesore on Laurens.

“At one point, I believed in this. But it was the wrong belief.”

A fundraising page calling for the former shop to be turned into a “beacon of hope” says: “Currently, the building sits dilapidated and abandoned, still containing remnants of its past tenant.

“There are Klan recruitment cards scattered around the main floor, Klan robe order forms still tacked up, and a floor-to-ceiling Swastika mural, left over from the 2006-2012 use of the property by members of the American Nazi Party. 

“These visceral reminders of the building’s not-so-distant past only work to strengthen our resolve to finally create lasting change in Laurens, South Carolina.”

In place of the far-right meeting place, a new initiative called the Echo Project is being created instead.

Appealing for donations, backers said: “Reverend Kennedy’s action 23 years ago — in showing grace to the seemingly unforgivable, yet standing defiant in the face of injustice — is something we will emulate in our grand plan for the Echo Theater.”

It says it wants to turn the building into a beacon of hope.

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