The head of a national chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is siding with the law in a property battle between an African-American church and a white nationalist shop in South Carolina.
As previously reported by The Christian Post, a circuit judge in Laurens, N.C. ruled earlier this month that New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church is the rightful owner of a building that also houses The Redneck Shop, an infamous white power shop and KKK museum.
The white supremacist store began in 1996, only for one of the klansmen behind it to sell the property deed to the Rev. David Kennedy's church after a dispute with another KKK member a year later. The decision continues courting controversy given the awkward living arrangements between the black church and the white shop at the historic Echo Theater.
Following this month's decision, Pastor Thomas Robb, national director of the KKK group known as the Knights, told The Christian Post he saw the court's judgment call as a legal one. It's less about race, he said, and more about property rights.
"If someone owns a deed of property, they can transfer it to anyone they like," Robb said. "That's the way I understand the law."
A call to Redneck Shop owner and former KKK grand dragon John Howard about the decision was referred to his legal representation and not returned by press time. The circuit judge ruled that Kennedy could claim ownership of the property after its previous owner, Michael Burden, Jr., had a falling out with Howard about Burden's wife and he sold the property to Kennedy instead. Multiple calls to New Beginnings were also not returned.
Howard can continue operating the shop as a clause in Burden's deed stipulates that he maintains possession of the shop until his death. A voicemail message at the Redneck Shop said that he was in failing health and the shop, normally open during the business week, will temporarily operate only on Saturdays. It sells KKK robes, t-shirts with racial slurs and other Klan memorabilia in a space occupying the Echo Theater's lobby.
The court's decision leaves Howard with personal court costs and $3,365.29 in legal fees he must cover for New Beginnings. He has a month to appeal the decision, but he told the New York Times he wouldn't publicly comment on his future legal decisions.
The court case's outcome has had negative consequences for New Beginnings as well as positive ones. As previously reported by The Christian Post, vandals have scrawled Nazi and Confederate symbols on the church's property. Dead animals have also been left there.
"A lot of people have become so afraid," Kennedy told The Washington Post of the attacks. "I just told them it is part of our faith to endure."
Kennedy told the Times that if and when the Redneck Shop closes down, he hopes to turn the space into a youth art or civic center. The church may also use it for their tiny congregation, he added, given they currently worship in a double-wide trailer. One thing it won't be, the church leader declared, is a continuing testament to racism in American culture.
"We know it won't be a place for any race to have a supremacist mentality," Kennedy said. "Whatever we do, it will be a place that will not only talk about diversity, it will live diversity and celebrate it."