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Preacher’s Tale of Homelessness Questioned

July 29, 1991

RICHARDSON, Texas (AP) _ A Baptist preacher whose claims of teen-age homelessness were spotlighted in the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s television show rebutted assertions that he actually had a comfortable upbringing.

Darrell Gilyard has claimed he slept under a bridge from age 13 on. But The Dallas Morning News quoted a Florida woman who raised him said he fabricated stories about his childhood.

In an emotional, 50-minute sermon Sunday, Gilyard said the newspaper had ″taken half-truths, half-facts and innuendos and put them together in such a way that I have to stand before you this morning and ask, ’Who is trying to destroy me and why?‴

Gilyard, 29, became one of the nation’s most sought-after black Baptist evangelists after frequent appearances on Falwell’s nationally televised ″Old-Time Gospel Hour,″ but has fallen from grace recently.

Under pressure from Baptist leaders, he resigned from his Victory Baptist Church on July 10 amid allegations that he had affairs with female congregation members.

He christened Grace Community Church less than two weeks later. Last week, he asked members of his new church to forgive him for the alleged affairs.

Gilyard conceded Sunday that he may have exaggerated stories of his homeless life, but added that he had at times been forced to sleep under a bridge.

Barbara Davis, 65, of Palatka, Fla., who said she reared Gilyard from age 5 to 19, told the newspaper she was ″embarrassed″ when she saw Gilyard’s life story on ″The Darrell Gilyard Miracle Story″ on Falwell’s show in January.

″He was never out in the streets like other children,″ she said.

She said Gilyard had two reasons to invent a homeless background - to save wayward Christians and turn a profit.

Gilyard was taken in by Ms. Davis’ sister, Mary Eliza James, after his migrant worker parents abandoned him as a baby. When Gilyard was 5, Ms. James died and her sister, whom he called ″Auntie,″ assumed his care.

″My life as a poor black teen-ager is burned into my brain,″ Gilyard told the newspaper. ″Unfortunately, I suspect the passing years have dimmed my aging Auntie’s memory.″

Gilyard claimed Sunday that Ms. Davis had kicked him out of the house repeatedly and at times she did not know where he was living. Ms. Davis, listed on school records as Gilyard’s only guardian, denied the account.

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