Civil Rights Center former executive director speaks out in first extended interview since firing

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In less than a month, we’ll celebrate the 55th anniversary of the beginning of the sit-in movement in Greensboro. It was the time when four North Carolina A&T State University students sat down at the segregated lunch counter in the Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store in downtown Greensboro and stayed there. Many believe it started the Civil Rights Movement across the south.

Up until about two months ago, Lacy Ward ran the International Civil Rights Center and Museum that sits in that former Woolworth’s store and commemorates -- among other things -- what happened there in 1960. The museum has struggled financially since it opened in 2010. Ward was hired to turn things around in May 2014, but was fired in early November 2014.

In his first extended on-camera interview since his termination, Ward said he really started to feel resistance from the museum’s co-founders, Skip Alston and Earl Jones, along with their allies on the board of directors when -- in late 2014 -- he began to implement three specific recommendations of a fundraising consultant (Alexander Haas): term limits for board members, term limits for officers and financial contributions from 100 percent of the board members.

Ward said he felt those three “reforms” were critical in establishing relations with a broader range of donors whose money would be crucial for the museum’s future success.

Here’s how he addressed some of the issues:

The criticism he’s received for speaking too publicly about the museum’s finances:

“Yes. (I have.) And the reason you speak frankly and publicly is because you want the public to understand the challenge before you and you want them to agree to partner with you to meet that challenge.”

The accusations he tried to change the museum’s message to attract a larger, “whiter” audience:

“I was trying to attract a larger American audience.”

On accusations he sexually harassed a female employee:

“I actually think she said it best when she said she received more pressure from the board to find a way to condemn me than she felt pressure from me in inappropriate behavior.”

On why he thinks the city should take over museum operations:

“The city is the donor of last resort. And the need is great. And I really don’t know who in the network of possible donors is willing to take that on.”
Ward also said he was fired on a Monday and had job recruiters calling him Tuesday morning. He told me he eventually will take a new job, but he feels there are still some issues here in Greensboro he can possibly help with. So he plans to stay in touch.