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An abandoned theater sits along a quiet street in downtown Laurens, but the unassuming building hides a dark history and a new project aims to turn it into a beacon of hope.
The Echo Theater once housed the Redneck Shop which sold Confederate memorabilia and Klan robes and served as a meeting spot for the Ku Klux Klan before finally closing it’s doors in 2012.
“What we are attempting first and foremost is just to reckon with what happened in the past,” Regan Freeman, who serves as the Executive Director of The Echo Project, said.
The Echo Project is raising money to transform the infamous store into a center for diversity and inclusion. A fundraiser has already generated nearly $387,000 for renovations.
“The members of New Beginning and Reverend Kennedy and members of our board are trying to leave this place better than we found it and trying to spread the stories of hatred, but more importantly, healing and hope, with the world,” Freeman said.
Rev. David Kennedy, who pastors New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church, now owns the old Echo Theater. A former Klan member sold it to him for $1,000 after the minister helped him get food and find a place to stay. The story of turning hatred into hope is now the driving force behind the Echo Project.
“You have to make a stand against these things and actually put an effort in and try to heal division,” Freeman said, “I think that begins with learning about the past and attempting to bring the community together.”