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The Rev. Henry Lyons

 

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A Times Editorial

The Lyons liability

©St. Petersburg Times, published November 13, 1997


The NAACP, the nation's pre-eminent civil rights organization, did not make the same mistake. This week, NAACP chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams and other leaders forced Lyons (along with three other officials accused of unrelated financial misdeeds) to resign from the organization's national board.

As president of the National Baptist Convention, Lyons has enjoyed almost complete control over the organization's finances and policymaking. In contrast, his board position with the NAACP carried little real authority. Nevertheless, Evers-Williams understood the need to rid the NAACP of any association with Lyons and the other board members under investigation.

"We want them to resign because the reputation of the NAACP is at stake," she said. "Far too many people have suffered for the organization to allow it to be tainted by scandal."

In addition to removing the four board members facing allegations, the NAACP also approved a strengthened code of ethics. The reforms are part of the NAACP's continuing efforts to repair the damage done in 1994, when then-executive director Benjamin Chavis was fired after diverting $80,000 from NAACP accounts to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Evers-Williams and other NAACP officials know all too well the long-term damage that can be done by an individual who abuses his position of authority.

That lesson apparently still hasn't gotten through to enough members of the National Baptist Convention. Their future fund-raising efforts suffered when Lyons diverted contributions from the Anti-Defamation League intended to help rebuild burned churches. Their future business opportunities suffered when Lyons made inflated claims to -- and took inflated "commissions" from -- businesses seeking an affiliation with the convention. The integrity of their organization suffered when Lyons was found to have opened secret bank accounts and made lavish purchases with convention funds. And their own reputations have suffered with every outlandish story Lyons has told, and every outrageous claim of victimization he has made, in a desperate attempt to defend himself. Yet Lyons continues to enjoy the blind support of thousands of his victims.

Lyons has maintained some of that support by portraying himself as the innocent victim of racist journalists and law enforcement authorities. Leaders of the NAACP know better. Most members of the National Baptist Convention eventually will know better, too.


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