When electronics engineer Willie Dash moved to the Baltimore area in 1979 from a nearly all-white Boston suburb, he wanted his three young children to grow up with a strong black identity.
The Dash family settled in Lochearn, a comfortable Baltimore County suburb of substantial brick and stone houses amid towering oaks.
Mr. Dash liked the location just over the city line off Liberty Road, convenient both to downtown and to the Beltway, and he liked the $42,000 price for a three-bedroom home.
He also favored the roughly 50-50 racial balance, a blend of aging white couples and young black families that began to move into Lochearn in large numbers in the 1970s.
"I really wanted the mix. I didn't want to go to an all-white neighborhood," he said.
In the dozen years the Dash family has lived there, Lochearn has become gradually more black -- 72 percent in 1990, according to the census.
Mr. Dash, 46, says the neighborhood's racial mix is "not really an issue." He is comfortable in Lochearn.
But he is concerned that the disrepair of some properties along ** Liberty Road itself is damaging the area's image as a place to live.
"People are really amazed when they get beyond Liberty Road that there are beautiful homes along the corridor," he said.
And in Lochearn the price is still right. A $100,000 house in Lochearn would fetch considerably more in many predominantly white areas of Baltimore County.
Baltimore County recently unveiled a plan to deal with the Liberty Road corridor's image problem and with residents' concerns about county services.
Nevertheless, Mr. Dash says area residents need to get more involved in the political process to make sure their needs aren't overlooked.
Mr. Dash also says many black parents in the area believe that teachers come to local schools with "lower expectations" of the mostly black students.
"It's a perception that in a black setting you're not going to get quality students basically because the media has shed negative light on blacks," he said.
Mr. Dash has sent his children to a private school in Towson.
Between neighborhood battles, Mr. Dash continues to enjoy the quiet of Lochearn's streets, the picnics at the local pool and the place's neighborly flavor. "We have some really outstanding folks here. The people make it attractive," he said.