WASHINGTON - A national community organization is demanding that the Federal Reserve Board block Boatmen's Bancshares' bid to acquire Worthen Banking Corp.

Members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now protested outside the Federal Reserve Board yesterday to pressure the central bank to hold a public hearing or reject the merger application. Similar protests occurred yesterday in front of several reserve banks, including the St. Louis Fed.

It said Boatmen's, a $27 billion-asset institution based in St. Louis, is violating the Community Reinvestment Act by failing to serve minorities in its home city.

Acorn spokesman Steuart Pittman said the bank rejected blacks three-and- a-half times more often than it rejected white loan applicants.

Boatmen's Community Development Corp. president Douglas Woodruff said Acorn doesn't have a case. He said the bank is the leading lender to blacks in St. Louis, and its market penetration in minority communities is four times greater than its penetration in the overall community.

"We are very confident in our record," he said, adding that he expects the Fed to treat the bank fairly.

The two parties had nearly resolved their dispute. But talks fell apart as the deadline approached for groups to protest the merger. Attempts by the Fed to restart negotiations also have failed.

"There is no question in our minds that Boatmen's is running a post- election test of the regulator's commitment to CRA," Acorn national president Maude Hurd said. "The Republicans now in control of the banking committees have worked for years to kill the CRA, and the Fed has always viewed the law as an excessive burden. Now, the bankers will see how much racial discrimination they can get away with."

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