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Last updated: Wed. Feb. 06, 2013 - 10:42 am EDT

City’s black history museum in power struggle

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FORT WAYNE — The African/African-American Historical Society Museum board says it has a new executive director.

Hana Stith, the museum’s founder, director/curator, civil rights icon and Fort Wayne institution, says it does not.

In a news release Monday, Pompia Durril, president of the board of directors, said the society had hired professional historian John Aden to lead the museum and that Stith had retired effective Dec. 31.

In a news release Tuesday, Stith fired back, saying she did not retire or resign but was fired by Durril on Dec. 28.

“He’s lied,” Stith said. “He said I wrote a letter to resign in March and the board accepted that, and that’s a lie. He said I announced at the annual meeting that I was retiring and that’s a lie.”

Stith’s news release said Aden’s hiring, like her firing, was done without the knowledge and consent of the board.

“Hana served as an at-will employee,” Durril said. “On March 12, she published in a booklet for our annual celebration that she intended to retire at the end of 2012. In August, at the annual meeting, Hana stated that she intended to retire at the end of the year. In November, at a board meeting where she was present, a motion was made to permit her to retire at the end of December and to offer her the position of curator emeritus. That motion was approved, so effective Dec. 31, Hana Stith is no longer an employee of the Historical Society.”

But Stith said the battle is just beginning: She and her supporters have gotten enough society member signatures to force a membership meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Allen County Public Library, where the members will vote on whether the corporation should continue to do business and whether to remove board members.

“The matters at hand will be settled in a righteous manner,” Stith’s statement said. “We’ve all heard the battle cry and we are ready for the fight!”

According to the museum’s website, it was founded when Stith and Miles Edwards realized the Allen County Historical Museum in 1975 had not preserved African-American history and decided to do it themselves. The museum, 436 E. Douglas St., opened in February 2000.

Durril said Stith is an icon and regrets that a personnel dispute has become a public clash.

“I don’t have anything against Hana, I revere her and want to protect her,” Durril said. “Everyone on that board wants to protect her legacy.”

For her part, Stith intends to continue running the museum she founded and stocked with historical items. Tuesday, she was there leading tours as usual.

“Mr. Dirril is determined to throw me out of this museum,” Stith said. “I’ve not done anything to the man but he’s harassed me for a year. He’s been very disrespectful to me.”

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