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Classmates Through a Time Portal of 50 years

Classmates from Compton Manuel Dominguez High Class of 1970 will celebrate 50-year reunion to reminisce, share evolvement THE TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES of 1970 and 2020 are like a journey through a wormhole connecting two different intervals

Classmates from Compton Manuel Dominguez High Class of 1970 will celebrate 50-year reunion to reminisce, share evolvement

THE TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES of 1970 and 2020 are like a journey through a wormhole connecting two different intervals on the timeline. What contemporary technology has laid bare for our service alone, has jumped off the pages of science fiction to reveal what was considered impossible five decades ago.

Seniors in 1970 had been in high school since 1967 during a tempestuous time in America’s social fabric. She was still a young nation then – just 194 years old and still maturing. Her vibrant culture of entertainment in cinema, music, theatre, and sports helped her endure some trying periods along the timeline. One of the nation’s greatest attributes – her music – helped to sooth our growing pains when they became unbearable.

We were able to sing about our full range of emotions. The good and bad; happy and sad. The popular music of the time was a mix of R&B, rock, soul, country, blue grass, blues, new wave, and metal, represented by too many Hall of Famers to name here – groups and acts like The Archies, “Sugar Sugar,” the Carpenters, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” The Temptations, “I Can’t Get Next to You,” Lulu, “To Sir With Love,” Sonny and Cher, “The Beat Goes On,” Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Mind,” Barbra Striesand, “Funny Girl,” the Mamas & the Papas, “Monday Monday,” The Supremes, “Stop In the Name of Love,” The 5th Dimension, “Wedding Bell Blues,” … as well as The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Curtis Mayfield, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Martha and the Vandellas, David Bowie, Parliament/Funkadelic, Talking Heads, and Bruce Springsteen, to name a representative few. The list could go on ad infinitum.

National Tragedies

Nineteen-seventy grads were only 16 years old when two giant figures on the national stage – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy were struck down by assassin’s bullets on April 4 and June 6, 1968, respectively. A year later the TET Offensive would erupt with ferocity in South Vietnam in 1969; it appeared the highly unpopular and costly war in Southeast Asia would rage on forever. After cessation of the fighting, which ended in victory for communist North Vietnam, 56,000 US service personnel and more than 1 million North Vietnamese combatants had perished.

The social thermometer in America was at the boiling point with public dissent raging daily against hostilities between Hanoi and Washington D.C., and social conditions swirling around civil rights were still molten from the gruesome 1964 murders in Mississippi of three voter registration rights workers – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, whose killers had yet to be brought to justice. The assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and Malcolm X on Feb. 21, 1965 were also still festering wounds in the American consciousness.

All wasn’t complete ruin in America, however.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the United States and still in office on July 20, 1969 when the manned Apollo 11 lunar mission touched down on the surface of the moon. Cmdr. Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin formed the American crew that landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle, while command module Columbia pilot Michael Collins orbited the moon as his comrades descended to the lunar surface, soon thereafter greeting the Earth with Armstrong’s now famous declaration – “One small step for man, one large step for mankind.”

The moment was a spectacle for the world as hundreds of millions were able to view the touch- down on live television – a technological marvel in itself – which, at the time offered a respite for a world in turmoil.

But, it was only a respite. Black and White race relations were uneasy and tensions between the Black, Latino and Puerto Rican communities and police, severe. Prior to the years 1967-1970, race riots extending back to 1963 were a conflagration in the US, exploding in cities from Birmingham, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Watts, San Francisco (Hunter’s Point), Newark, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and dozens of others.

Decades of racial, economic, and political disparities, which gave rise to urban poverty, resulted in race riots in inner cities across America. Social gaps contributing greatly to the frustration in the urban corps during the time included the lack of economic opportunities, unemployment, and racial injustice. A wide gulf existed between the quality of education for the minority and majority commmunities. Lack of political representation and poverty were overall “catch words” for the dilemma.

Civil Rights Legislation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one means by which the Federal government began to close equality gaps in the US. The Community Redevelopment Agency prohibited segregation and discrimination based on race in public facilities, including schools, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination in voting practices. Private schools also began to desegregate in response to growing internal and external pressure.

School integration was the process that began the end of race-based segregation within American public and private schools. Racial segregation in schools existed throughout most of American history and was on ugly display in Compton through most of the 1950s and 1960s with a sprinkling of Black and Latino students, the majority being Black.

The original high school in the city opened in 1896 as Compton Union High School and was later re-established as Compton Senior High School in the 1950s after Compton College separated from the high school district in 1953 and opened a new campus at 1111 E. Artesia Boulevard. Prior to that in 1927, a community college was added to the campus enabling graduating seniors the opportunity to pursue a college education within the campus. Between 1914 and 1925, the student body enlarged to 1,000 students necessitating the construction of 12 new buildings.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1933, the Long Beach earthquake destroyed the administration building, but this did not stop the growth of the student enrollment. By 1935 the building was reconstructed and Compton was back to the business of educating its students. In 1953, due to the growth of the population within the school and the city of Compton itself, it became necessary to separate the high school and college facilities.

During the 1960s, Compton High was a predominately White high school. There was a dramatic transition from a White student body to a majorityBlack one in the late 1950s to mid-60s following the movement of large numbers of Black families to Compton  and the transfer of White students to newly-constructed Manuel Dominguez High in 1957.

Today, Compton High has undergone another transition to more than 80 percent Latino students, created by the infusion of Latino immigrants from Mexico and Central America in South Los Angeles beginning in the early seventies.

The city’s third high school, Centennial, was constructed in 1953 to relieve the influx to Compton High. The new high school’s first graduating class was in 1954.

Surge of White Flight

Initially, Blacks and Latinos were not a large part of the original student body at Dominguez High and the few that ended up there were incidental to the purchase of homes by their parents in the district. Later it became a federal mandate when the US government ordered school desegregation nationwide to help equalize the quality of education. This is when Black and Latino students, who normally would have attended Compton High School were bused to Dominguez from the Westside of Compton to desegregate the schools.

This was the beginning of the end of the White presence in Compton. Averse to Black neighbors, Whites began selling their homes at a record rate – a boon to Black homebuyers who had been hampered by real estate “covenants” that restricted homebuyer loans from banks to them and access to White enclaves in Compton.

The disposition of the freeway system surrounding Compton reflected this. The 710 freeway was once the White-belt freeway until the 1980 census (which means all cities the 710 passed through were majority White). The 110 freeway was the Black-belt. Today, the 710 freeway runs through communities that are 80 percent Latino.

Legacy of gang mayhem

Gangsta rap and street gang mayhem conspired to rob Compton of its middle-class “white-picket-fence-manicured-lawn” charm of the 1950s and 1960s. Rap artists across the spectrum glorified the carnage of the street in lurid detail enhanced by every invective in the English lexicon. No one and nothing was sacred – children, females, mothers, grandmothers, religion, not even Jesus Christ. Multiple gang factions killed one another relentlessly by the tens of thousands in Watts, Compton, and practically every other ghetto across the US over the color of a rag in the beginning. Blue and red were the colors of choice. Later the furor raged over which gang sets would control illegal drug trafficking. The cult classic films “Boyz In the Hood,” and “South Central,” were based on these inglorious periods in Compton and South LA history.

Due to the legacy of gang mayhem and street drugs, which began shortly after the final vestiges of the White exodus had altered the racial landscape in Compton, the suburban enclave in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles changed dramatically. Compton was re-cast and stained by mainstream media as one of the most violent places on Earth. The mayhem, beginning with the rise of the notorious gang sets, the Bounty Hunters, Pirus and later the Crips and Bloods, spiraled out of control during the early 1970s through the 80s, 90s, and Y2K at the turn of the century. The bedlam continues to fester in 2020. The root of the carnage in Compton had its genesis in the three housing project in Watts – Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens, and Imperial Courts, which festered with poverty, joblessness, illicit drugs, and violence. The mayhem manifested in handgun violence almost daily. As Black families moved in ever-increasing numbers to Compton, the street gang element accompanied them.

What had been a prosperous suburban enclave throughout the 1950 and 60s comprised of 3-4 bedroom homes with large backyards and fruit trees, gave way to scores of “board-ups.” What previously was a suburb teeming with business enterprises like Sears & Roebuck, J.C. Penny, and the Broadway, busy restaurants, and new car dealerships along four thoroughfares – Long Beach, Alondra, Rosecrans, and Atlantic boulevards – began shuttering one-by-one around 1974-75 as the economy began to subside.

Two factors contributed to Compton’s decline: White flight, which took much of the economy with it, and the rush of Black Americans from areas like Watts, others areas in Los Angeles, and those immigrating from the South and Eastern areas of the US, attracted by an explosion of jobs in the West spurred by a war-time economy. Black job-seekers came for employment and the promise of a home and new life in Compton, Calif.

Many men were also recently retired veterans armed with G.I. Bills, which enabled them to pursue a college education or purchase a home on the westside of town, where White homeowners declined to purchase homes, preferring the northeast section of town east of Alameda Street extending to the Long Beach Freeway, and north-south between the 91 Freeway and Rosecrans Avenue. The majority of Compton’s White population resided here.

Compton’s racial shift began in earnest in 1963 when the California Supreme Court ruled in Jackson vs. Pasadena City School District that school boards had to take steps to eliminate racial segregation in schools no matter what its causes. This judicial act inspired African Americans in Los Angeles and adjoining suburbs to increase their efforts to force school desegregation, which ultimately occurred, only to ultimately frighten White Comptonites into mass emigration to whiter surroundings in Southern California.

The educational benefits were invaluable to the Black and Latino students bused to Dominguez High School beginning in the 1960s. Socially and culturally, however, the various ethnic groups suffered the loss of opportunity for a different type of education – one that would have been cross-cultural. Sadly, that was prohibited by the fears of White parents reticent to live across the fence from neighbors whose skin tone did not match theirs.

Seeds to the contrary may have been planted in the minds of their children, some of whom will be returning for a remarkable 50-year reunion to swap stories with some of their Dominguez High classmates from Compton yesteryear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.

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