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Legacy of Kennedy's New Frontier still manifest in Howard County [Commentary]

6:15 AM EST, November 22, 2013

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Marylanders had a special affinity for John F. Kennedy, who we memorialize this week on the 50th anniversary of his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas. And it's more than the fact that Kennedy was a Democrat in a state weighted toward Democrats.

Maryland's heritage of progressive public policy shares much with the Kennedy vision, known generally under the rubric the New Frontier. It's probably no coincidence that Maryland has produced its own visionaries, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Francis Scott Key, composer of our national anthem; and Frederick Douglass, the slave who became a renowned abolitionist.

Kennedy shared with these prominent Maryland men an ability to envision a more enlightened world. In Kennedy's own time, that vision was shared by developer James Rouse, who founded the Howard County community of Columbia on forward-looking principles of human values.

In October 1963, just a month before Kennedy's assassination, Rouse's team unveiled the plans for the land acquisition that would become Columbia. According to the Columbia Archives online, the city was "unique for its purposeful goal to be an integrated community at a time before the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, color, national origin or religion." Two years later, the vision became bricks and mortar when rezoning for the project was approved. Howard County had its own part of the legacy of the New Frontier.

Kennedy made numerous appearances in Maryland, including campaign stops in nearby Catonsville and Towson in 1960 and, during his presidency, a ribbon-cutting in Harford County for Interstate 95 on Nov. 14, 1963, just eight days before his death.

In one of those appearances, while campaigning as a young senator, he said, "I think this is a great country, but I think we can make it a greater country, and I think it is a powerful country, and I think we can make it more powerful.

"I speak of the 1960s as a New Frontier, and I don't speak of the 1960s or my own candidacy in the sense of promising that life will be easy if I am elected. The New Frontier of which I speak is the opportunity for all of us to be of service to the great Republic in a difficult and dangerous time," he said.

All Marylanders who are old enough can remember where they were when they heard the news of the Kennedy assassination. Many Americans regarded it as the end of an era.

And while the act of an assassin 50 years ago may have silenced a voice, the message of a new frontier took root, in places such as Columbia, and that vision drove the way residents here live, work and dream. We have always given Rouse recognition for this. But Kennedy deserves some credit, too.