1971 SPECIAL REPORT: “COMPTON, BLACK CITY”
Published on Jul 7, 2020
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During the 1950s and 1960s, after the Supreme Court declared all racially exclusive housing covenants (title deeds) unconstitutional in the case Shelley v. Kraemer, the first black families moved to Compton. The area's growing black population was still largely ignored and neglected by the city's elected officials. Centennial High School was finally built to accommodate a burgeoning student population. At one time, the City Council even discussed dismantling the Compton Police Department in favor of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in an attempt to exclude blacks from law enforcement jobs. A black man first ran for City Council in 1958, and the first black councilman was elected in 1961.
In 1969, Douglas Dollarhide became the mayor, the first black man elected mayor of any metropolitan city in California. Two blacks and one Mexican-American were also elected to the local school board. Four years later, in 1973, Doris A. Davis defeated Dollarhide's bid for re-election to become the first female black mayor of a metropolitan American city. By the early 1970s, the city had one of the largest concentrations of blacks in the country with over ninety percent. In 2013, Aja Brown, age 31, became the city's youngest mayor to date.
For many years, Compton was a much sought-after suburb for the black middle class of Los Angeles. This past affluence is reflected in the area's appearance—Compton's streets are lined with relatively spacious and attractive single family houses. However, several factors have contributed to Compton's gradual decline. One of the most significant factors was a steady erosion of its tax base, something that was already sparse due to limited commercial properties. In later years, there were middle-class whites who fled to the newly incorporated cities of Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos, Paramount and Norwalk in the late 1950s. These nearby communities remained largely white early on despite integration. This white middle class flight accelerated following the 1965 Watts Riots and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
By the late 1960s, middle-class and upper-middle-class blacks found other areas more attractive to them. Some were unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County such as Ladera Heights, View Park and Windsor Hills, and others were cities such as Inglewood and, particularly, Carson. Carson was significant because it had successfully thwarted attempts at annexation by neighboring Compton. The city opted instead for incorporation in 1968, which is notable because its black population was actually more affluent than its white population. As a newer city, it also offered more favorable tax rates and lower crime.
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