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Lyons, directors to meet to consider options

By DAVID BARSTOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 1999


The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, after being urged by key supporters Monday night not to resign as president of the National Baptist Convention USA, will convene a special meeting of his board of directors on March 16 to discuss his future.

The meeting is scheduled to be held at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where Lyons is pastor. It is expected that his supporters will call for a vote of confidence for Lyons, who thus far has not said whether he intends to resign in the wake of his racketeering and grand theft conviction last week.

"If he's contemplated that, he's kept most of that to himself," said Grady Irvin Jr., the lead attorney for Lyons. "He has conferred with probably members of the (NBC) executive committee . . . but I haven't talked to him about it. It just hasn't been something that he and I have discussed.

"All I know is that a meeting has been set for March the 16th, and I've been asked to put it on my calendar."

In a teleconference late Monday, several members of the convention's executive committee urged Lyons, 57, to stay on as leader of the nation's largest black church group.

One participant, the Rev. E.V. Hill of Los Angeles, declined to discuss specifics of the teleconference, but he said he plans to attend the special board meeting. "When your brother is in the muck and the mire, you try to drop everything to help," he said. "I believe he'll have as many (board members) as can get there."

At the meeting, Hill said, he will call on Lyons to remain in office, arguing that resignation would validate what he regards as an unjust verdict produced by a racist criminal justice system in Pinellas County.

Hill's criticism of the all-white jury, first reported Tuesday by the St. Petersburg Times, drew the ire of both jurors and other convention board members.

"He's utterly stupid," said the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum of Tennessee, who called a Times reporter Tuesday because "I am so mad and I don't know what to do.

"How can you sit there and talk about race in a situation like this?" he asked. "Hell, if it was racial, what about the fact that there was a black woman who was acquitted? . . . For God's sake, White America, don't sit back there and think we're all stupid and crooked."

Whalum was referring to Bernice Edwards, the former NBC public relations director who was acquitted of charges that she conspired with Lyons to swindle millions of dollars from corporations that did business with the convention.

Juror Karen Raia, 47, of Palm Harbor called Hill's charge "totally bogus," saying the prospect of convicting Lyons left her anguished and exhausted. "I kept thinking, "How many millions of people is my decision going to affect?' " she said Tuesday. "They called him the black pope, and I didn't take it lightly."

She recalled vividly her emotions when the jury finally voted unanimously to find Lyons guilty. "I felt bad that the National Baptist church had to have a mark against its leader," she said. "So many people believed in him."

In another development Tuesday, the Rev. William Shaw, a Pennsylvania minister who claims a substantial following in the convention, called on Lyons to resign.

"I would pray for his good, and for the good of his family and the convention, he would relinquish his position," Shaw said in an interview. He is one of two major candidates seeking to defeat Lyons this fall in the convention election. The other major candidate, the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of New York, called for Lyons to resign Saturday, hours after the verdict.

Combined, Richardson and Shaw won more than half of the votes cast in 1994, when Lyons was elected president. Then again, Richardson and Shaw repeatedly have called on Lyons to resign since financial scandal began to engulf him in 1997. Each time, Lyons has brushed aside their criticism by winning votes of confidence.

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