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  • Nation of Islam minister backs Lyons

    By TIM GRANT

    ©St. Petersburg Times, published July 14, 1997


    TAMPA -- The Rev. Henry J. Lyons on Sunday gained the support of a religious organization he has criticized: the Nation of Islam.

    Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, the former executive director of the NAACP, is a special assistant to Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam. In Tampa, as part of a scheduled tour of America's cities, Muhammad held a news conference and said Lyons is being attacked because of his race. He added that the Nation of Islam will do what it can to help the St. Petersburg minister.

    "We are praying for him and are prepared to stand by him," Muhammad said. "We don't believe anyone should be vilified before all the facts are represented. I have been in the shoes where Dr. Lyons is in."

    Muhammad, who as Benjamin Chavis was named to the NAACP's top post in 1993, was ousted a year later amid allegations that he spent $300,000 of the civil rights organization's money to silence a woman who said he had sexually harassed her.

    Soon after being voted out of office, Muhammad changed his name and teamed up with Farrakhan, the Muslim leader whose group critics have accused of fostering the division of the races in this country. The pair organized the successful 1995 Million Man March on Washington, D.C.

    As the leader of the 8.5-million member National Baptist Convention USA, Lyons was the most prominent black leader to oppose the Million Man March.

    "We have a profound respect for Dr. Lyons even though he did not support the Million Man March," Muhammad said. "He's my brother, and whenever brothers and sisters have problems we stand together as a family."

    Muhammad described Lyons as a "humble, God-centered, God-loving religious leader who is trying to do right for his family and his church." The reason he has been scrutinized is because he is black, Muhammad said.

    "We live in a society where if you stand up for black people you get attacked. If he wasn't president of the National Baptist Convention (USA) he would not be attacked. We know there is a double standard of justice in this country and race is the issue."

    Although Lyons has been criticized for refusing to answer questions about his spending from news organizations, Muhammad thinks he is doing the right thing.

    "Why is there this rush to judgment? Why do we have this lynch-mob mentality?" he said. "When in the heat of controversy, we must abide by the advice of our attorneys and the advice of God."

    Muhammad's visit to Tampa is part of a 130-city tour in which he will be preaching Obedience to God, redemption and atonement -- the main message of the Million Man March.


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