Learn about The Echo Project’s inspiring transformation of the Echo Theater, from a former white supremacist headquarters into a museum and diversity center open to all.
From Hatred to Hope
The Echo Project is building a museum and diversity center at the site of a former white supremacist headquarters in downtown Laurens, South Carolina.
In 1996, the previously segregated Echo Theater became the site of the “Redneck Shop,” an infamous headquarters and storefront for Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups which spread hate across the United States and beyond. The presence of the shop in Laurens attracted journalists, protestors, and defenders of hate, helping expose the long history of racism and injustice in the area.
In a remarkable turn of events, local civil rights activist Reverend David Kennedy demonstrated extraordinary compassion towards Michael Burden, a former Klansman who had been evicted from his apartment inside the Echo Theater. Reverend Kennedy and his congregation at New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church provided support to Burden and his family, enabling him to transform his life. Expressing his gratitude, Burden eventually issued a public apology to the community and sold the deed of the Echo Theater to Reverend Kennedy’s church for a symbolic sum of $1,000. After decades of community activism and a lengthy legal battle against Klan members, the “Redneck Shop” was finally shut down in 2012.Today, the Echo Theater is being transformed into a testament of how hope can triumph over hatred.
The New Echo Theater: A Museum and Diversity Center
Designed by a world-class team of architects, designers, historians, educators, and civil rights leaders, the museum and diversity center will use the transformative journey of the Echo Theater to explore the struggle for justice and equality throughout American history. The new Echo Theater will offer an immersive experience for guests, which will recognize important and neglected stories from our community, encourage reflection, and inspire positive change.
Exhibitions within the theater will be supported by The Echo Project’s ongoing Oral History and Research Project, which has recently received support from the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Network and the Association of African American Museums. These partnerships ensure that the stories shared within the Echo Theater are authentic, meaningful, and prioritize the voices of those who have long been marginalized.
An International Site of Conscience
Recently designated as an International Site of Conscience, The Echo Project is proud to join a global network of 300+ historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives across 64 countries. This partnership connects The Echo Project with other organizations that activate the power of place and memory.
The Echo Project believes that we must remember our shared history, even if painful. The new Echo Theater will be dedicated to inspiring moral courage by transforming those memories into positive action.