Tables turned as black church wins KKK battle

A story nearly made for a book or a movie made the rounds a few weeks ago, when the Associated Press reported that a black church won a court battle against the owner of a Ku Klux Klan 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.

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.

You can get a picture of what the store looks like from the 2008 Associated Press video embedded above, but the latest story doesn't go into too much detail about how the black church got involved in a dispute over a KKK store.

The New York Times has a follow-up story, looking at how the deeds to the building ended up in the hands of a pastor and his church.

The shop owner had deeded the building to a man named Michael Burden Jr. with the caveat that the shop, and Mr. Howard, could remain there until he died. But there was a falling out between the two, and the shop owner threw the family and their possession into the streets. And the church stepped in and did what churches do.

That’s where Pastor Kennedy, whose civil rights résumé includes protests against flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina Statehouse, comes in.

He gave Ms. Burden and her children some water. Church members took them to a restaurant to eat. Someone secured a hotel room for the family.

“I busted out in tears, ashamed at what I’d done,” said Ms. Burden, who soon joined the church with her husband. “I still pray for forgiveness.”

Then things got worse. The family needed money. The one thing of value they had was the deed to the Echo Theater. Would Pastor Kennedy buy it? He did, on April 22, 1997, for $1,000.

The article includes the interesting info how the purchase came after the church helped the family. However, the piece doesn't go into depth about other details about the church, such as size, history, the impact of the sale on the congregation. And does Ms. Burden still attend the same church?

The story goes on to explain that the shop owner tried to sell the building, creating a court battle that he ended up losing. The piece offers a look at what could happen to the building if the shop owner doesn't pay the legal fees.

C. Rauch Wise, the church’s lawyer, said that if Mr. Howard does not appeal or pay, there could be a foreclosure auction. The shop and its contents, robes and all, could go to the church.

When that day comes, plans will be made. The old Echo Theater might become an arts center for youth, or a civic center. Or, in what would be a cinematic ending, a new home for the tiny church, which now holds services in a double-wide trailer.

What's interesting about this part of the story is that it seems to contradict the earlier AP account.

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.

Perhaps plans have changed. Either way, the Times story is a nice follow-up that tracks down some of the missing pieces in earlier reports.

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