Compton is a city in southern Los Angeles County, California, United States, situated southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The city of Compton is one of the oldest cities in the county and on May 11, 1888, was the eighth city to incorporate. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a total population of 96,455. It is known as the "Hub City" due to its geographic centrality in Los Angeles County. Neighborhoods in Compton include Sunny Cove, Leland, Downtown Compton, and Richland Farms. The city is generally a working class city (some middle-class neighborhoods) and is home to a relatively young community, at an average 25 years of age, compared to the American median age of 35.
Since the 1980s, the city of Compton was popularized in American media due to many hip hop groups and rappers originating from the community, such as the gangsta rap crew N.W.A, who are best known for their debut album, Straight Outta Compton, and are widely considered one of the seminal acts of the gangsta rap sub-genre. The city of Compton as well as southern Los Angeles County in general is notorious for its heavy concentration of gangs and gang violence, such as the Bloods, the Crips, and Sureños, which all originated in the Los Angeles area.
In 1784, the Spanish Crown deeded a tract of over to Juan Jose Dominguez in this area. The tract was named Rancho San Pedro. Dominguez's name was later applied to the Dominguez Hills community south of Compton. The tree that marked the original northern boundary of the rancho still stands at the corner of Poppy and Short streets. The rancho was sub-divided and parcels were sold within the Californios of Alta California until the lands were ceded after the Mexican-American war in 1848. American immigrants acquired most of the rancho lands after 1848 by what is now considered illegal means.
In 1867, Griffith Dickenson Compton led a group of thirty pioneers to the area. These families had traveled by wagon train south from Stockton, California in search of ways to earn a living other than in the rapid exhaustion of gold fields. Originally named Gibsonville, after one of the tract owners, it was later called Comptonville. However, to avoid confusion with the Comptonville located in Yuba County, the name was shortened to Compton. Compton’s earliest settlers were faced with terrible hardships as they farmed the land in bleak weather to get by with just the barest subsistence. The weather continued to be harsh, rainy and cold, and fuel was difficult to find. To gather firewood it was necessary to travel to mountains close to Pasadena. The round trip took almost a week. Many in the Compton party wanted to relocate to a friendlier climate and settle down. But there were only two general stores within traveling distance, one in the pueblo of Los Angeles, the other in Wilmington, so they eventually made the decision to stay put.
By 1887, the settlers realized it was time to make improvements to the local government. A series of town meetings were held to discuss incorporation of their little town. Griffith D. Compton donated his land to incorporate and create the city of Compton in 1889, but he did stipulate that a certain acreage be zoned solely for agriculture and named Richland Farms In January 1888, they forwarded a petition supporting the incorporation of Compton to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who in turn forwarded the petition to the State Legislature. On May 11, 1888 the city of Compton was incorporated, it had a total population of 500 people. The first City Council meeting was held on May 14, 1888.
The ample residential lots of Richland Farms gave residents enough space to raise a family, and food to feed them, along with building a barn, and caring for livestock. The farms attracted the black families who had begun migrating from the rural South in the 1950s, there they found their 'home away from home' in this small community. Compton couldn't support large-scale agricultural business, but it did give the residents the opportunity to work the land for their families and for the welfare of the new community.
The 1920s saw the opening of the Compton Airport. Compton Junior College was founded and city officials moved to a new City Hall on Alameda Street. On March 10, 1933, a devastating earthquake caused many casualties, schools were destroyed and there was major damage to the central business district. While it would eventually be home to a large number of African Americans, in 1930 there was only one black resident. In the late 1940s, middle class African-Americans began moving into the area, mostly on the west side. Compton grew quickly in the 1950s. One reason for this was Compton was close to Watts, where there was an established community of African Americans. The eastern side of the city was predominately white until the 1970s. Despite being located in the middle of a major metropolitan area, thanks to the legacy of Griffith D. Compton, there still remains one small pocket of agriculture from its earliest years.
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 African American families moved to the area. Compton's growing African American 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. This slowly began to change when, in 1958, the first African-American ran for a City Council seat. However, it would be another three years before an African-American would actually be elected to the City Council in 1961.
For many years, Compton was a much sought after neighborhood for the black middle class of Los Angeles. Now, only some areas of Compton are still middle class communities. This past affluence is reflected in the area's appearance — Compton's streets are lined with relatively spacious and attractive single family homes. However, several factors have contributed to Compton's decline. One of the most significant factors was a steady erosion of its tax base. First, 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 move was even further precipitated after the Watts Riots in 1965 and 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Soon, middle class blacks also 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. The latter was significant because it had successfully thwarted attempts at annexation by neighboring Compton. The city of Carson 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.