Controversy over African American Museum's Director

By Rachel Martin

February 10, 2013 Updated Feb 10, 2013 at 9:21 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) – After 13 years, controversy is swirling over who is the Executive Director of the Fort Wayne African-African American Historical Museum. Board members say the director resigned, while she says she was fired.

Hanna Stith says she was unfairly fired as executive director of the Fort Wayne African-African American Historical Museum in December.

"I am still the director. I have never been officially dismissed from this position,” she said.

Stith says she and her husband founded the museum in 2000, and it’s one of two African American museums in the state. Although she had previously stated she would retire January 1, 2012, she says she never formally did.

“The Board had never received my retirement or a release or anything signed by me that I was resigning,” she said. “So on his own, more or less, Mr. Durril decides that he’s going to retire Mrs. Stith and he does this without the permission of the Board.”

Dr. Pompia Durril, Board Chairperson, says Stith made the formal statement during a board meeting, and they have records to prove it.

"The facts are that in March of 2012, Mrs. Stith put into a public letter that she intends to retire at the end of 2012. In November of 2012, the Board executed a motion to retire Mrs. Stith on December 31, and that motion passed,” Durril said.

Stith says Durril has a personal vendetta against her, and that he hasn't properly run the museum during his time as chairperson.

"Business matters are neglected. Things that should be done are not done, and so far as being President of the Board, to do fundraising, to solicit funders to help, to do anything connected to this museum, he has neglected his duties,” said Stith.

Durril says he has nothing personal against Stith, but that he's simply following up on her resignation and moving forward.

"What we’re focused on is protecting the museum and sustaining the museum, so what we've done is hire a person we believe can help protect the corporation, and sustain over the long haul,” he said. “The board has hired a director and has severed its relationship with the former director.”

Stith says of the 13 years she’s curated and directed the museum, there’s never been much board support, especially when it comes to funding.

"I want the Board to work on doing what Boards do—that is fundraising. That is also working with me to help me with programs, do planning. That is very vital that we work together because it’s something that one person cannot do alone and we need the support of a Board.”

Durril says the newly appointed director has already made two presentations to the Board on how he plans to sustain the museum financially. In the meantime, Durril says the Board has offered Stith the position of Curator Emeritus so she can still be involved with the museum.

"We are very appreciative of Mrs. Stith's efforts. She did a great job in founding the museum. She moved it to this particular level. What we have to do is protect the museum and look at what happens after this point,” he said. “The Board looked at where we were at this point and made a decision about where we needed to go.”

A meeting will be held for the African American Historical Society members to address the issues of the Board and Director. The meeting is Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Allen County Public Library.

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