Moving Day

By 9:30 a.m., workers from Foster Fence Company had staked the perimeter of Allen Parkway Village with posts, and a few hours later, the front of the project was entirely cordoned off by shiny new chainlink.

A crew from A-Rocket Moving -- all black men -- was idling under a shade tree, waiting for the call to begin moving the belongings of the remaining nine households in APV. If they had any misgivings about the political correctness of their assignment, they weren't letting on. "It's just a lot of work for us," shrugged one mover.

And it was. Some of the poor people left at Allen Parkway had a lot of possessions crammed into those small apartments. There were TVs and stereos to move, air conditioners to unbolt from window frames, a large rusty freezer to wrestle up the ramp into a van.

By 10:30, there probably were more white people at APV than there had been since shortly after whenever they fully desegregated the project. Most of the them were cops and media types, but there were also some federal marshals outside of the perimeter and an ad hoc assemblage of relatively quiescent protesters on the premises. The cops were there to help the marshals, who ostensibly were in charge of carrying out U.S. District Judge David Hittner's order that the project be vacated by high noon on July 12, although the cops appeared to be in charge. The media, of course, were on hand to record the last meaningful stroke in a struggle that's occupied the councils of power in Houston on and off for almost two decades. HPD had arranged for a couple of selected cameramen to remain for "pool" footage after Hittner's deadline, so it went without saying that the day held the potential for some sensational, gut-wrenching video of the bulls wading in to roust the noble tenants -- Steinbeck as shot by John Ford for the evening's top story on Channel 2.

But this is Houston. By 11, the moving men were drenched, and most of the cops and media people had taken refuge under the abundant shade trees, one of the many natural features that make the site of Allen Parkway Village such an appealing landscape, even when covered by 1,000 decaying units of World War II-era public housing. Almost all of the tenants were in the final stages of moving.

On the western edge of the project, one woman admonished her teenage son to step lively. "Come get all that shit off the floor in there," she said. "At 12 o'clock, you can't come back and get that shit." The kid hustled inside and began toting out his shit.

Hittner's order held that anybody still on the APV grounds after noon could be held in contempt. "We've got our golf shirts on today," explained one of the casually dressed marshals. "Come noon, we're playing through." He didn't seem to be watching the clock that closely.

By 12:30, the cops had brought a large water cooler to the APV community center, where the media had been herded after Hittner's order took effect. A short while later, the ceremonial press conferences began, one after another, with a procession of speakers -- Police Chief Sam Nuchia, Houston Authority executive director Joy Fitzgerald, the head of the local HUD office, etc. -- all declaring that the Siege of Allen Parkway Village had been peaceably concluded. There were no casualties, not even a raised voice, unless you count the testy exchanges between the movers.

Jew Don Boney, who spent part of the morning helping smooth the transfer of the tenants into their new homes, proclaimed the day "simply the turning of a chapter in a long book," and that caught it about right. The councilman seemed to suggest that tenants' leader Lenwood Johnson might justifiably declare a victory of sorts, given that early proposals to raze the project completely had given way to a plan to preserve and renovate about 280 of the apartments.

It was difficult to tell whether the tenants' leader shared that sentiment, but shortly after 1:30, when he had finished saying his piece before the microphones, Lenwood Johnson threw an arm around Boney and smiled broadly, and genuinely. It wasn't exactly a gesture of triumph, though; it was more like a smile of relief and exhaustion by a man who was finally letting go after holding his breath for 15 years.

By nightfall, all the tenants were gone, and the Housing Authority padlocked the front gate. As everybody noted, the shuttering of APV was nothing if not anticlimactic.

Johnson, naturally, didn't go easily, nor till the last minute. He spent much of the morning working the phone inside his small apartment, amid the stacked and strewn papers he had accumulated in his years of legal maneuvers to save the project. One supporter arrived with a do-it-yourself bankruptcy kit and the suggestion that Johnson and another tenant could file for bankruptcy, thus staving off their evictions. It made you wonder what the monastic Johnson might list as his assets on a bankruptcy petition, but in any case, that strategy was abandoned, as was the idea that Johnson would hang around to be arrested, which might make him ineligible for future habitation of public housing.

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