Rev. David Kennedy, native of Laurens, South Carolina, founded the Echo Project to transform what was historically a meeting place for Klu Klux Klan members into a diversity center, according to an NBC News report. The headquarters was known as the “World’s Only Klan Museum,” selling pieces of neo-Nazi paraphernalia and hosting meetings for white supremacist groups.
Kennedy grew up during the Jim Crow era and recalled what it was like experiencing racism first-hand. He told NBC he lived in an apartment with his grandparents marked “C” for “colored.” He also said his great-great uncle, Richard Puckett, was killed for after being falsely accused of a crime as many Black people were back then.
The town of Laurens had a population of 9,300 people being 56 percent white and 38 percent Black, reported NBC.
So, while residents were outraged, it wasn’t entirely shocking when a self-professed Ku Klux Klan member, John Howard Jr., opened the Redneck Shop, a KKK museum, store and meeting place, in 1996 at an old segregated movie theater in the city.
The store sold KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacist paraphernalia, like lynching photos, old grenades owned by the groups, pins, T-shirts and hats, one of which read “Original Boys in the Hood,” according to a 1996 report by The Washington Post. Supporters of the shop called it a symbol of “proud Southern heritage,” and one even defended the place with a shotgun.Over the years, the building became known as the “World’s Only Klan Museum,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL.
The store eventually closed in 2012, reported NBC. Regan Freeman, a white native of Laurens County, joined Kennedy to create the Echo Project, named after the theater, to turn a place where hate was celebrated into one where diversity is. Per NBC’s report, Kennedy held a number of protests to have the store transformed. In response, the Klan sold pictures of his uncle’s lynching and even threatened his church.
Later on, one owner of the shop, Michael Burden, decided to sell Kennedy the deed to the store, reported NBC. By 2017, Kennedy had full ownership and began planning to make the space into a diversity center for remembering Black history, per NBC. The center will also feature a museum and is projected to open in 2023.
“- this new place will be a place to encourage people. … We want to create an atmosphere where everyday people will feel the freedom to speak,” said Kennedy via NBC News.