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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Danita Jones (left) and Pastor Michael Latham, Renaissance Baptist Church, stand while Jimella Harris (back) hugs Hana Stith, founder of the African-American Historical Museum, on Monday afternoon.

Hana Stith locked out of museum

As Hana Stith picked through her keychain Monday in search of the museum's key, she glanced at the lock and noticed something strange.

The piece of metal surrounding the keyhole was silver – not gold like it had been for years.

"I could not believe it," Stith said, standing on the lawn outside the African/African-American Historical Society Museum, locked out of the place she had opened 13 years ago.

Stith's lock-out is the latest clash between Stith and Pompia Durril, who says he is chairman and president of the board.

The board of director's attorney Pete Mallers said Monday that he was aware of the situation and knew that the board had placed a sign on the door after having the locks changed.

"My review of the situation tells me that the board of directors, the group that I represent, has legitimate authority," Mallers said. "Pompia Durril is the chairman and board president of that board and has authority."

The decision to change the locks was made in order to protect the museum and to allow the board to "maintain some control," he said.

"Emotions are at a very high level between these directors and the museum's co-founder and (the board) wants to reserve her an appropriate place, but they also have a job to do," he said.

Last week, 64 members of the group's 146 members voted to dissolve the current board and to elect five new board members.

But what's not clear is whether the organization's bylaws require a majority of total members present at the time of the vote or a majority of the total membership.

Mallers said that the board didn't have enough votes to get the job done because they needed a majority of the entire membership, not a majority of the 83 who showed up to vote.

Stith's attorney, A. Dale Bloom, said in a letter that the vote was valid with a majority of members present, and the corporation is currently without a board of directors.

Stith and several members stopped by the museum about noon Monday to put together a press release about a Saturday meeting where members met to elect five members to serve as reorganization directors, she said.

But when Stith attempted to insert her key into the door to enter the building, the key didn't fit.

Posted above the lock was a sign informing Stith that the locks had been changed by the board of directors and she would need to contact Mallers for additional information.

Stith said she was disappointed and embarrassed in the situation at hand.

"This has to end. It's gone on too long," she said. "We cannot continue to exist like this. If it keeps up, we'll have to close the doors.

"The public is going to turn their backs and I can't blame them when we're destroying ourselves from the inside."

The lock situation would need to be resolved quickly, because a school group is signed up for a tour at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Stith said.

"I won't be changing the locks. That's a game of cat and mouse that I'm not willing to play," she said.