“The Compton Cowboys,” a true story about race, identity and belonging by Walter Thompson-Hernández, is the June selection of the Los Angeles Times Book Club.
Published in April, the book traces the history and fragile legacy of black cowboys in a Los Angeles bedroom community that has been many things in its sometimes-forgotten century-long history. Over time, Compton has been an agricultural hub, a brief home base for George H.W. Bush and, by the 1990s, a city in complete upheaval from gang violence and the crack cocaine epidemic.
The cowboys’ credo: “Streets raised us. Horses saved us.”
“If you grew up in or near Compton, you might have grown accustomed to hardscrabble streetscapes juxtaposed against stretches of farmland,” writes Lynell George in a Times review, “but you always paused to marvel at the black men astride horses, boots slipped into stirrups, eyes shielded from the sun by cowboy hats.”
Thompson-Hernández will join the L.A. Times Book Club on June 24 to discuss “The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Heartland.” The 7 p.m. virtual meet-up will be livestreamed on the Los Angeles Times Facebook page, on YouTube and on Twitter.
Thompson-Hernández is a former New York Times reporter who now works for KPCC-FM (89.3). He writes that he first encountered the cowboys on shopping trips with his mother to the Compton Swap Meet, not far from their home in Huntington Park.
At age 6, he was mesmerized by the young men on horseback, known back then as the Compton Junior Posse. The son of an African American father “whom I didn’t really meet until my early twenties,” Thompson-Hernández says he always hoped he might run into his own father during those shopping trips.
“As I watched them ride at dusk,” he writes, “I recognized something inherent in the cowboys who existed in every western film and every hip hop song: these black men were nonconformist, independent, and strong.”
For more information about upcoming book club events, sign up for the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.