Texas Klan Groups Seek to Keep Public-Housing Units Segregated

A TUG of war continues over desegregation of federally assisted, low-income housing in 36 East Texas counties, with two white supremacist groups weighing in on one side.

Two separate Ku Klux Klan groups have been active recently in Vidor, Texas, protesting integration of the town's all-white public-housing complex.

Vidor, long regarded as sympathetic to the Klan, was chosen by the United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as the starting point for a court-ordered desegregation of the public housing in the counties.

This week in federal court, final briefs were filed in the remedy phase of the 12-year-old lawsuit against HUD. A 1990 ruling in the case required HUD to develop a plan to provide equal access to quality housing to blacks who receive federal housing assistance in the 36 counties.

Last week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Michael Lowe, state director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, cannot be forced to give authorities a list of his members - a setback for the Texas Commission on Human Rights (TCHR), a government agency that wanted the list for a probe into acts of intimidation.

In addition to the TCHR probe, a federal grand jury in Orange County, Texas, is trying to connect Klan organizations to violations of law over desegregation, says Rife Kimler, lawyer for Charles Lee, the grand dragon of the Knights of the White Camelia of the Ku Klux Klan - a separate group from Mr. Lowe's. @BODYTEXTnoindent = IN Vidor, desegregation initially failed. Last September the black families who had moved in with HUD's encouragement moved out again, citing threats and harassment. The seeming triumph of interracial hatred brought the town wide notoriety, to the chagrin of the majority of citizens, who had openly favored desegregation.

The TCHR tried to obtain membership lists from Lowe and Mr. Lee in order to link them to alleged acts of intimidation in Vidor. Such acts violate the Texas Fair Housing Act, which the TCHR enforces.

Lee was jailed for two weeks for refusing to reply to a state court. But he was released after telling the court that he did not keep a list. Lowe refused to turn over his list and was jailed for 11 days last November. That confinement was wrong, the Texas high court said last week.

In the wake of this ruling, the TCHR is considering its options. Its investigation marks the first attempt in the nation to use fair- housing laws against the Klan, TCHR executive director William Hale says. An indictment would have to be brought by September to beat the statute of limitations, Mr. Kimler says.

If the THRC brings charges against Lee's Klan group, Kimler will request a trial rather than allow the THRC to decide the matter in an administrative hearing.

No trouble has been reported at the Vidor housing project since blacks moved in for the second time last January, says Roberta Achtenberg, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing. Eighteen black families now live in the 72-unit complex, and eight more are on a waiting list.

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