A Word in Edgewise

Some situations defy an easy solution—at least in a democratic, equal-before-the law society. Take, for example the AP story filed by reporter Katrina A. Goggins under “Nation News, Weird News”: “Building Owner Fights Klan Item Shop.”

Few folks I know—none, to my knowledge—live near a KKK-Mart, not even in Jasper, Alabama, where I lived for eight years, and where today, mixed-race couples are commonplace at the movies or at Shoney’s buffet. Yet, here is Goggins writing about David Kennedy, 54, a black civil rights leader in Laurens, South Carolina, who is attempting to oust The RedNeck Shop from the old Echo Theater, where it has been since 1996.

Moreover, court records show that Kennedy’s New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church, of which he is pastor, owns the theater. Court records also indicate that before the transfer to the church in 1997, RedNeck proprietor John Howard, 62, owned the entire building, and legally is allowed to continue to run his shop inside part of the building until his death.

In the meantime, the New Beginnings Missionary congregation meets in a doublewide trailer.

While Laurens, some 30 miles southeast of Greenville, was named after 18th-Century slave trader Henry Laurens, and, according to the AP reporter, still has addresses marked “C” that once indicated black (colored) dwellings, the town was not unanimously receptive to Howard’s enterprise. He recounted that at first, people “threw rocks at his windows, spit in his doorway and picketed”—one even drove a van through the front windows.

But the question is: What is the right thing to do—better phrase that the fair/legal thing. If Howard has a legal claim to the space, then what is the option? Is there an option?

I bring up this news item more as a sort of moot court or mock trial debate question, because it is a compelling example of how carefully one must weigh a given situation, to separate one’s rational thinking from one’s emotions.

My emotions say, “Well, hell, yes”—the church should occupy the building in which, as black movie-goers, they were once relegated to the balcony. But what about Howard’s legal rights—no matter how repellant his inventory? Unless he actively is fomenting Klan activity, should he be expelled? What about gay bookstores, head shops, and sex emporia? Should anyone be able to close down a legally owned and appropriately run business?

I don’t offer a solution, and I’m not championing Howard—and I can’t claim to know all the facts from one article—but I offer the (ironically named) Kennedy-Johnson question as a springboard. Think about your choice of victors. Think about what you’re using to draw that conclusion: mind or emotion.

When I visited its Web site, I noticed that The RedNeck Shop does brisk enough trade to be open Monday through Saturday. Sundays, by appointment only.

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