Compton Already Had a Bad Reputation in the 1940s, Says Longtime Resident

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.

When Ellis Cooke moved to Compton's Richland Farms neighborhood in 1962, it already had a bad reputation, one that he had been hearing about since the 1940s. However, it wasn't the same violent notion that has been portrayed by the music and film industries.

"I can remember times when I was working in the ship yards in '44--people would say they don't dare come down Alameda (Street) because cops would stop them," Cooke said. "Compton just didn't get this reputation since the turnover, it's always been here."

He continued to hear about Compton negatively throughout the 1950s before moving there, establishing a family proud of their home where he still lives today, representing the last vestige of Compton's working class Methodist temperance past. "Rather than to say that I'm from something that might sound a little remote from Compton, first of all I say I'm from Compton, then I'm from Richland Farms," he explained.

The 300-acre area full of large lots drew Cooke to Richland Farms, namely for his horse. As his five children grew up, the livestock became important tools in life's lessons. Each was given an animal to care for. "They would have a responsibility to do something as young children so when they grew up they would have responsibilities," he said. "I think I knew right from the beginning to tell my children to do something and tell them they had to do it because I told them to do it; I just did not think it would work, so I wanted to give them something to do..."

He may be on to something. When it was time to feed their animal, it was up to each child to come home. That's because Cooke wasn't going to do it for them. "I think it worked," he said of his now adult children who became a lawyer, a doctor, a Vice President at Johnson Controls, an employee at the City of San Jose and a staffmember at Georgetown University.

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 third mural hotspot, where one additional video interview of Cooke can be viewed.

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