Former KKK Headquarters in South Carolina to Become Diversity Center

The Rev. David Kennedy looks at items in the Redneck Shop in Laurens, S.C., in 2008. Patrick Collard / AP file

The Rev. David Kennedy remembers well what it was like growing up in Laurens, South Carolina, during the Jim Crow era. He lived in an apartment with his grandparents marked “C” for “colored” and was forced off sidewalks when white people would pass.

He recalls going into a shop one day as a kid to buy a collar for his dog, only to have an employee ask him, “Do you need one to fit your neck, too?” He tells the stories of Black people killed after being falsely accused of wrongdoing — including his great-great uncle Richard Puckett.

“August the 11th of 1913 is when they killed him,” Kennedy said, detailing what unfolded that day: Puckett, who could not read or write, was delivering a letter from his roommate to a young woman who turned out to be married. The woman’s husband saw the note and turned his wrath on Puckett. Puckett was taken to jail.

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“A mob came and broke him out of jail, and they hung him up under a trestle,” Kennedy said. “They shot his body up real bad. We would see that rope hanging every time we would go under the trestle, because it was the main entrance to the Black community. They said anybody who took that rope down, the same thing that happened to Richard Puckett would happen to them.”

In the decades that followed, white residents would sell photos of Puckett’s lynching at the shop and give them to Black Laurens residents, telling them, “Stay in line if you don’t want this to happen to you,” Kennedy recalled.

Laurens, a city of 9,300 whose population is 56 percent white and 38 percent Black, has a history rife with racism and oppression for its Black population. Along with the daily discrimination residents like Kennedy faced, racist murders were common in the area. Black men were lynched and killed for false rape accusations to refusing to work on holidays.

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.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Char Adams

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