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The Rev. Henry Lyons



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The cast of supporters and critics

Times staff writer

©St. Petersburg Times, published September 2, 1997

DENVER -- At the hotel where the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. met Monday, the anti-Lyons factions could be found politicking in the halls.

Convention members exchanged fliers decrying the behavior of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons. People talked in clusters about who might replace him, should it come to that. Among those lobbying for a new president -- or who themselves might succeed Lyons:

The Rev. T.J. Jemison, a Baton Rouge, La., pastor, was president of the convention for 12 years before Lyons took over in 1994. Jemison has been credited with building the convention's World Center in Nashville, Tenn., but has been criticized for his handling of convention finances and for his support of heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape. An enemy of Jemison, Lyons once described him as "an unscrupulous man" without "a principle in his body."

In 1994, Jemison could not run for re-election because convention rules prohibited it. He supported the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, one of Lyons' opponents, in that race. On Monday, Jemison, who is in his late 70s, was seen talking to Lyons' critics.

The Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, Jemison's pick for president in 1994 and his choice for general secretary of the convention during the decade before that, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lyons. Three years ago, the pastor from Mount Vernon, N.Y., finished second behind Lyons in a hard-fought election. On Monday, Richardson's supporters distributed 7,000 anti-Lyons leaflets around the hotel.

The 48-year-old Richardson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church since 1975, is a board member of the Congress of National Black Churches and a trustee for the National Urban League.

The Rev. C.A.W. Clark, a convention vice president and nationally known revival leader from Dallas, also took on Lyons in 1994. One of the grandfathers of the convention, Clark came in fourth. Clark, 82, has been president of the convention's Texas branch for 22 years. He also has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Lyons.

The Rev. Stewart C. Cureton of Mauldin, S.C., also ran against Lyons in 1994, but withdrew from the campaign several weeks before the election and pledged his support to Lyons. After Lyons won, he named Cureton as vice president-at-large. By convention rules, some convention members said Monday, Cureton, 67, would automatically become the new president if Lyons were to be removed.

Cureton's support for Lyons has apparently stood firm. On Monday, Cureton said opinions among convention directors were 3-to-1 pro-Lyons. "He has the majority with him," Cureton said.

The Rev. Jasper W. Williams of Atlanta also aimed to organize opposition against Lyons on Monday. Williams was a write-in candidate in the 1994 election, receiving just 141 votes.

In recent weeks, Williams has called for systematic changes in the way the convention handles financial affairs, not just a new president. As convention rules are written, the president has broad authority to handle the group's money.

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