A new salvo in the lengthy legal battle between the National Baptist Convention and American Baptist College over who sits on the board of trustees has been filed in Davidson County.
Last November, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that both parties have a say in who is chosen for that board, seemingly ending the two-year battle between the college and one of its founding denominations.
But on Thursday, the college filed a motion asking the court to hold the NBC in contempt, alleging they did not act in good faith in the latest negotiations over the board’s members.
“NBC violated the Order by disapproving reappointment of existing Trustees without the
required ‘good faith,'” the new filing from the college claims. “Without reason or justification (and ignoring the College’s repeated requests for that information), NBC disapproved reappointment of two of the College’s most important and valuable Trustees—current Board Chair Rev. Dr. Darius Butler (who testified at trial) and Dr. Karen Dunlap.”
The college sued the convention over the issue in October 2017. Then, the convention sued them back. An attempt at mediation failed in 2018 before a proposed settlement fell apart last year.
American Baptist College, established in 1924 as American Baptist Theological Seminary, became a magnet for leaders in the 1960s fight for civil rights. It counts the late-U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Bernard Lafayette among its graduates.
The historically black National Baptist Convention and the predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention both supported the school until the 1990s. At that time, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed to step aside.
American Baptist College has argued the board of trustees should be able to appoint itself just as it has done for roughly two decades because of inaction by the National Baptist Convention, court documents state. The college said its board has self-appointed during that time frame without objection or interference from the convention.
The National Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest African-American religious convention, disagrees.
It argues the college’s governing documents give the convention sole appointment power and the college’s president, Forrest Harris, has been trying to limit the convention’s involvement for years, according to court documents.
Recently, NBC refused to reappoint two board members, current Board Chair Rev. Dr. Darius Butler and Dr. Karen Dunlap, according to the new court filing.
ABC disputes that decision, and also claims that NBC acted poorly during the negotiation, allegedly not responding to requests for more information on the decision.
“This evidence establishes there is no legitimate reason for NBC’s disapproval (and
thus its willful violation of the Order),” ABC has argued.
A hearing on the matter has been set for Nov. 6.
Requests for comment sent to both parties were not immediately returned.
Holly Meyer contributed.
Reach reporter Mariah Timms at [email protected]