Old Echo Theatre building to be turned into cultural center in Laurens Co.

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LAURENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA) – On the surface, it’s an abandoned movie theater.

But many in Laurens County are very familiar with the dark history behind the Echo Theatre that still sits downtown.

The building, once known as the Redneck Shop, was used to hold Ku Klux Klan meetings, and sold white supremacist merchandise as recent as 2012.

Right now, the Echo Theatre still sits empty, an eerie reminder of when the KKK was actively meeting at the building.

But with plans to turn it into a cultural center, one pastor believes the community could start to heal.

“I was born under Jim Crow,” Rev. David Kennedy, with New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, said. “Raised in Jim Crow and I know the horrors.”

Kennedy said he remembers the days he would go to the Echo Theatre as a young boy, where the seating was segregated by skin color.

The theater was later sold and re-opened as the Redneck Shop in 1996, which sold Ku Klux Klan clothing and held white supremacist meetings until around 2012.

This is until Kennedy and the New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church came into ownership with different plans.

“We’ll use the center to devote all of its attention to making Laurens what God needed it to be and what it needs to be for each citizen, regardless of race.”

Kennedy is now raising money to convert the building into a cultural center, a place of discussion, where all colors are welcome to discuss racism and encourage inclusion.

“Race has played a toll in Laurens County and its still playing a toll in Laurens County, and we need to see can we put all of this behind us and let it rest,” Emma Jean Harrison, member of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, said. 

While he can’t change the past, Kennedy says he does hope to change the future.

“We don’t know how to be family yet, but we’re determined about one one thing: One day we will be,” Kennedy said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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