'In some ways, Compton is a metaphor for the history of post-war race in America'













Departures is KCET's oral history and interactive documentary project that thoroughly explores neighborhoods through the people that live there. In January, SoCal Focus is taking you through the Richland Farms series one day at a time.

One way to understand Compton's history is through a timeline, but even that still needs a narrative for deeper connections. That's why it's important to bring historian Josh Sides into the picture. As Director of the Center for Southern California Studies at CSU Northridge and author of "City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present," Sides puts context to what we know about Compton, and its Richland Farms neighborhood.

"In some ways, Compton is a metaphor for almost the entire history of post-war race in America," he explains. "It witnesses all the changes that we talk about when we talk about post-war race in America: a quick transition from a white suburb to a black suburb [after the riots of 1965], the ascent of black political power, the sort of imminent economic decline by the 1970s, the introduction of gangs [and crack cocaine] in 1980s."

And it was by the 1980s that Sides says Compton crystalized every problem in urban America and became a symbol for all of urban America's ills, as amplified and exploited by the music and film industries in the 1980s. "In fact, it was probably not more trouble than Newark, for example, but the idea of Compton becomes much more powerful than, in many ways, the actual real Compton."

The latest, and most significant, transition in Compton's history has been the Latin Americanization, much like South L.A. proper and surrounding suburbs. That, says Sides, "has changed the racial, cultural and political composition of South L.A."

"Compton today for Latin Americans is what it was for blacks in the early 60s--many Latino families finding an entryway into the lower middle class dream of California life," continues Sides. "The troubling aspect is that blacks are not now in the advanced position of equality and parity as whites."

Continued: "The idea of a farm or equestrian center in Compton appears to be the most unlikely sort of collision of worlds because Compton typifies this sort of high density industrial and residential pattern of that region. The idea that lower middle class minority residents--black, Latino--are able to take advantage of one of the most famous parts of Southern California's heritage--the bucolic equestrian heritage, which in the San Fernando Valley, is sort of a luxury item for the affluent of Calabasas, the affluent of Chatsworth--the notion that this persists to this day is quite remarkable and quite beautiful."

The Departures Richland Farms series is broken down into two parts as interactive murals: The Past and The Present. The above information is based on The Past's second mural hotspot, where two additional video interview of Sides can be found.

About the Author

Zach Behrens is KCETLink's Editor-in-Chief of Blogs, where he oversees website editorial and advises on projects. When he does write, he mostly covers local government, environment, and the outdoors.
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