Columbia's Oasis

March 28, 1994

A recent broadcast of the CBS News program "48 Hours" focused on interracial marriage and dating.

It exposed a long litany of the problems and prejudices faced by couples with black and white partners. It seemed not to matter where in the country they lived, all of them experienced similar difficulties.

All, that is, except for the couples interviewed from Columbia.

A brief segment in the CBS report on Howard County's planned city was the lone bright spot in a discouraging portrait of national intolerance and bigotry. The Columbia interlude came as no particular surprise, but it was welcome under the circumstances. The city's reputation for openness has not been a secret.

Since its creation more than a quarter-century ago, Columbia has charted a course along the ideal of fair housing.

The result is a place rich in people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and economic levels. Columbia held this distinction long before words such as "multi-culturalism" and "diversity" became popular.

Columbia was aptly portrayed in last week's report as an oasis amid a barren landscape of old racial tensions and de facto segregation. It was noted that Columbia has been a magnet for interracial couples, who see it as a place they can live in comfort, and where their children can grow up secure in who they are while being exposed to role models of all races.

Interestingly enough, CBS took its cameras into Wilde Lake High School, the city's oldest and most diverse high school.

There, a young interracial couple -- a black boy and a white girl -- talked about their relationship with such clear-headed frankness, they left little doubt that growing up in Columbia has left them unencumbered by outdated stereotypes and senseless cultural taboos.

So, is Columbia perfect? Of course not.

Race issues still are part of daily life, usually just below the surface and occasionally churning above the surface.

But as Columbia's revered founder, James Rouse, told one of the network's correspondents, the diversity and relative harmony within the city of 70,000 residents is an accomplishment of which he is most proud.

Columbians should share his pride.

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