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Movie Tells How Black SC Church Came To Own Building Housing KKK Store

In 1997, a black South Carolina church came to own a building that housed a Ku Klux Klan-operated white supremacist store. It was in the town of Laurens, about 100 miles southwest of Charlotte. 

A former Klan member named Michael Burden sold the building to New Beginning Mission Baptist Church after the church’s pastor, Rev. David Kennedy, took in Burden and his family when they fell on hard times. 

The unlikely story is told in the movie “Burden,” which will be distributed nationally Friday. It stars Forest Whitaker as Kennedy and Garrett Hedlund as Burden.

The two real-life men had a history. Burden owned a building that housed a KKK-run business called the Redneck Shop, while Kennedy led protests against the shop.

Credit Courtesy of the Echo Project
Redneck Shop owner John Howard, who was a local Klansmen and gifted the deed of the property to Michael Burden.

“They had these wooden dolls with ropes around their necks and on the doll [it said], ‘This is the way you handle n-----,'” Kennedy says. “They had all kind of racist robes of the Klan, all kind of racist materials.”

The Klan ordered Burden to kill Kennedy. He almost did. Kennedy says he later learned that Burden had him in his gun sights one day at a convenience store, but didn’t pull the trigger.

“Some white kids got around me,” Kennedy says. “I guess he didn’t want to kill them or accidentally kill them.”

Burden also had Kennedy in his sights one time while the reverend was in the Redneck Shop, but again he backed down. Burden’s fiancé eventually convinced him to leave the Klan – but he ended up losing his job because his employer was a KKK member.

He and his fiancé and two children were begging on the streets of Laurens one day when Rev. Kennedy saw them and decided to help. 

“He said, ‘Rev. Kennedy, I know you don’t trust me,’” Kennedy says. “But we need some food. We living out of this truck.”

Kennedy says he helped them find housing and helped Burden get a job. Burden then sold the Redneck Shop building to the church for $1,000. There was a catch though: the deed allowed the shop to remain rent-free as long as the store’s owner was alive. For more than a decade, the store remained in operation while the property was owned by a black church.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the owner died and the church assumed complete control of the building.  

Credit Courtesy of the Echo Project
The Inside of the Echo Theater today. The New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, which owns the buildings, estimates it will take at least $500,000 to convert into a community and diversity center.

Kennedy says Burden later fell back in with the Klan briefly. Today, he’s says Burden is a truck driver in New York state and has left the Klan for good. 

Credit Courtesy of the Echo Project
Rev. David Kennedy stands outside the historic Echo Theater, the former home of the Redneck Shop.

In Laurens, the church wants to turn the old Redneck Shop into a community and diversity center. It’s raising money for the project and hopes the movie will help. But Kennedy says the most important thing the movie can do is spread the lesson of his story.

“Racism and hatred, they are both destructive and they have no future,” Kennedy says. “But love and kindness, they have a future.”  

"Burden" hits some theaters around the country Friday.  It will open at the Concord Mills movie theater March 27.  

The Echo Project still is seeking donations to help turn the former shop into a cultural diversity center. More information is here

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