The New York Times recently featured a series of articles on racially changing neighborhoods. The first described a large upper-middle-class suburban community in Maryland's Prince George's County which today consists of predominantly black upper-middle-class families. A major theme of the article was the contentment, even desire, of a portion of the families to live ''among our own,'' where especially in social situations the families felt they could more easily relax.
The second article described the more typical transition of a community in south Chicago. Twenty years ago Roseland became racially integrated. Working-class and middle-class black families moved into Roseland with great dreams: better schools, cleaner and safer streets and a quieter life. As one of the first residents recalled. ''It was trees meeting trees.''
Twenty years later the scene became all too familiar. All the whites had moved out, mostly to the neighboring community of Mount Greenwood. Absentee landlords gained a foothold and later took control. Commercial strips were abandoned, department stores were closed, parks were trashed and drug dealers divided the spoils. Today the majority of Roseland's 50,000 residents, lacking a supermarket of their own, must travel to Mount Greenwood's two supermarkets which serve Mount Greenwood's 19,000 white residents. Tensions abound, and the possibilities of what could have been will never be experienced by these two communities, at least not in this generation.
The article describes the mood of the initial black homeowners as one of bitterness and powerlessness. The families see themselves as victims and blame the white residents for fleeing and the larger white institutions (banks, businesses and
politicians) for abandoning them and their community. The black homeowners of Roseland are correct in describing their situation as one of powerlessness; what they fail to include is that many of the white families in Roseland also viewed themselves as powerless.
As we all know, Greater Baltimore has its Roselands and Mount Greenwoods. Baltimore, however, also has its success stories. What occurred along the Loch Raven Boulevard corridor, commonly known as Northwood, during the 1970s and '80s is a story that should be told across the nation, a lesson that teaches that Roselands are neither inevitable nor predestined.
As black families began moving up into the Northwood corridor in the mid-1960s, the local residents, under the leadership of the late Msgr. Clare O'Dwyer of St. Matthew's Church and with financial aid from the larger churches, built block clubs and strengthened their local community associations. The new residents, both black and white, were urged to join the clubs and ''get involved.''
An umbrella organization, the Northeast Community Organization, was formed to coordinate the efforts of the smaller groups and tackle the major neighborhood issues. The old and new residents felt anything but ''powerless.'' They took to the streets, demanded mortgages from the lending institutions and got them. They drove the real-estate speculators out of their communities, succeeded in getting first a corridor-wide and later a city-wide ban on real-estate ''For Sale'' signs which were being used to frighten particularly the elderly homeowners.
More important, they partied. They sang and danced and blocked off streets for neighborhood barbecues which young and old, black and white, bank executives and drug-store cashiers enjoyed. Friendships were formed that no one would have believed possible. Today the communities thrive and many, thanks to the efforts of thousands who would not yield to the ''inevitable,'' are still racially integrated. Ednor Gardens, Lakeside, ''original'' Northwood, and the dozen smaller communities that comprise the Greater Northwood community are as healthy now as they were 25 years ago.
There need be no new Roselands in Maryland. The good people of Northwood have much to teach the rest of us. Racial integration is occurring in dozens of Maryland communities. But negative forces, left unchallenged, can still do much harm. We in the city got careless in the late 1980s. The ''For Sale'' signs, for example, should never have been permitted to return.
The temptation to exploit a racially integrated situation for financial gain is very real. The Belair-Edison corridor has struggled heroically for 15 years to assure peaceful racial integration. In this corridor, though, an ugly symbol prevails which proves that the lessons of Northwood must constantly be reinforced. On Erdman Avenue a huge banner hangs on the wall of a real-estate office for all the passing cars and pedestrians to see. The banner reads in capital letters: ''WE PAY CASH FOR HOUSE/FAST CASH.''