The 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington provides a convenient look-back on a half-century of changes for northwest Baltimore County.
In 1973, Pikesville was a sleepy community with Field's Pharmacy anchoring the northern shopping district along Reisterstown Road and the Pikes Theater predominating on the southern end. Small merchants dotted the stores along this route.
Owings Mills basically consisted of fields with sparse commercial development and the huge Maryland Cup manufacturing plant. The most prominent site on the ride to Reisterstown, with its Main Street antique shops, was the Twin Kiss frozen custard stand surrounded by woods.
Today, we're part of a designated growth area. Pikesville and Owings Mills each have 31,000 residents; Milford Mill has nearly 30,000 and Reisterstown has 26,000. Baltimore County, meanwhile, has gone from less than 500,000 residents to 817,000.
The biggest change is demographic. African Americans leaving Baltimore City have chosen this part of the county as home. Black people constitute 51 percent of Owings Mills' population, 29 percent of Reisterstown's and 14 percent of Pikesville's.
The recent growth in Hispanic residents - nine percent of Reisterstown's population and seven percent of Owings Mills' - stands out as well. There's been a rise in Asian families, too, and a large number of Jewish families from the former Soviet Union. This explains why a foreign language is spoken in 23 percent of Pikesville homes, 20 percent of Owings Mills homes and 27 percent of Reisterstown homes.
Why this influx of minorities and immigrants? Outstanding schools, good bus service along Reisterstown Road and the Metro's rapid-rail downtown service. Local commercial growth also has made this a popular residential destination.
The county's heaviest concentration of black families reside in Owings Mills, Woodlawn, Randallstown and Lochearn. The exodus from Baltimore City has followed a western and northwestern path with additional relocations to the east in Overlea, Rossville, Middle River, Essex, Dundalk and Turners Station.
Similarly, the county's largest grouping of Hispanic families is in northwestern and western communities, followed by neighborhoods east of the city.
Since 1970, Baltimore County has seen its white population drop by 58,000 while the number of African-Americans in the county has soared ten-fold, from 19,000 to 197,000; other minority groups in the county have skyrocketed from 2,000 to 48,000.
What was once an overwhelmingly white, conservative and still-largely rural jurisdiction has transformed itself into a much more dense, vibrant and diverse suburban county that supports liberal politicians much of the time, especially in our neck of the woods.
Much of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech has come true in northwest Baltimore County. Yes, there are problems, but the aspirations of minority families - better housing, better schools, better recreation and a chance for a fulfilling life - is being achieved here.