COLUMBIA, S.C. – A black South Carolina pastor and his church claim they own the building that houses a so-called Klan museum and store where KKK robes and T-shirts emblazoned with racial slurs are sold, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The Rev. David Kennedy said the property was transferred in 1997 to his Laurens County church by a Klansman who was fighting with others inside the hate group. A clause in the deed entitles John Howard, a man who runs the store, to operate his business in the building until he dies.
Kennedy said he'd like to close the store, but at the very least should be allowed to inspect the property.
"We've been outright denied," said Kennedy, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church. "Right now what we're focusing on is removing this cloud of doubt and this whole lie that we are not the real owners of the Redneck Shop building."
The lawsuit seeks to establish Kennedy's church as the legal owner of the property and stop Howard and associates from claiming to hold the deed.
According to the lawsuit, Howard and his associates have filed several court documents since the property was given to Kennedy's church that attempt to transfer the deed between various Klan-related owners, ignoring the church's claim.
"We think the actions they did were willful," said Kennedy's attorney Rauch Wise.
Howard, who calls himself a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon for South Carolina and North Carolina, said Tuesday he hadn't heard of the lawsuit and hang up the phone on an AP reporter.
The Redneck Shop has been the target of protests and attacks since it began operating in an old movie theater in 1996. A few days after it opened, a Columbia man crashed his van through the front windows of store and was charged with malicious damage to property. High profile black activists have staged several protests outside the Redneck Shop.
Inside the store, hooded Klan robes hang on the same rack as racist T-shirts. Pamphlets and pictures of burning crosses and of men, women and children in Klan clothing tell a partial history of the organization.
Kennedy has led protests outside the store since it opened but said he's never been able to close it because of the agreement that Howard can run the shop for life.
He hopes the building will one day be the home for his New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church, which now meets in a doublewide trailer.
"Martin Luther King said this: 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,"' Kennedy said. "It's going to be a good day to see them in court."