The Compton Cowboys|Walter Thompson-Hernandez
The Compton Cowboys : The New Generation of Cowboys in America's Urban Heartland
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"Thompson-Hern ndez's portrayal of Compton's black cowboys broadens our perception of Compton's young black residents, and connects the Compton Cowboys to the historical legacy of African Americans in the west. An eye-opening, moving book."-- Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Figures

"Walter Thompson-Hern ndez has written a book for the ages: a profound and moving account of what it means to be black in America that is awe inspiring in its truth-telling and limitless in its empathy. Here is an American epic of black survival and creativity, of terrible misfortune and everyday resilience, of grace, redemption and, yes, cowboys."-- Junot D az, Pulitzer prize-winning author of This is How You Lose Her

A rising New York Times reporter tells the compelling story of The Compton Cowboys, a group of African-American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the proud, centuries-old tradition of black cowboys in the heart of one of America's most notorious cities.

In Compton, California, ten black riders on horseback cut an unusual profile, their cowboy hats tilted against the hot Los Angeles sun. They are the Compton Cowboys, their small ranch one of the very last in a formerly semirural area of the city that has been home to African-American horse riders for decades. To most people, Compton is known only as the home of rap greats NWA and Kendrick Lamar, hyped in the media for its seemingly intractable gang violence. But in 1988 Mayisha Akbar founded The Compton Jr. Posse to provide local youth with a safe alternative to the streets, one that connected them with the rich legacy of black cowboys in American culture. From Mayisha's youth organization came the Cowboys of today: black men and women from Compton for whom the ranch and the horses provide camaraderie, respite from violence, healing from trauma, and recovery from incarceration.

The Cowboys include Randy, Mayisha's nephew, faced with the daunting task of remaking the Cowboys for a new generation; Anthony, former drug dealer and inmate, now a family man and mentor, Keiara, a single mother pursuing her dream of winning a national rodeo championship, and a tight clan of twentysomethings--Kenneth, Keenan, Charles, and Tre--for whom horses bring the freedom, protection, and status that often elude the young black men of Compton.

The Compton Cowboys is a story about trauma and transformation, race and identity, compassion, and ultimately, belonging. Walter Thompson-Hern ndez paints a unique and unexpected portrait of this city, pushing back against stereotypes to reveal an urban community in all its complexity, tragedy, and triumph.

The Compton Cowboys is illustrated with 10-15 photographs.


  • ISBN-13: 9780062910608
  • ISBN-10: 0062910604
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Company
  • Publish Date: April 2020
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Page Count: 272

The Compton Cowboys

Start with the TV show “Bonanza.” Lose the Ponderosa Ranch, the ten-gallon hats, the wholesome hijinks and Pa’s endless supply of cash. Add a heaping dose of institutional racism, gang warfare and black cowboys. In some ways, Walter Thompson-Hernández’s The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland is a totally different take on the cowboy way of life, but at its heart is the recognizable hope that human goodness will triumph over inequality.

Given that the publication of Thompson-Hernández’s book is accompanied by features in the New York Times and The Atlantic, an exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and an upcoming feature-length film called Concrete Cowboys starring Idris Elba, it’s safe to say that black cowboys are having a moment. Well, another moment. According to historians, black cowboys made up 25% of the cowboy population during the West’s early days. (No, Will Smith was not the first cowboy of color in the wild, wild West.) And though this book alludes to the tradition’s beginnings, its main concern is recent history—specifically, the story of a small group of riders in one of America’s most notorious zip codes.

Today’s Compton Cowboys are alumni of Mayisha Akbar’s Compton Jr. Posse, an equestrian program aimed at providing academic support and an alternative to gang life to low-income students in the Richland Farms area. The program has operated under Akbar’s steady hand since the 1980s, offering Compton’s youth a safe haven in the middle of a neighborhood known for its violence.

The book begins at Akbar’s retirement—a tenuous transition from her strict, formal leadership style to the more laid-back approach of her nephew, Randy Hook. Hook must navigate his move from group member to group leader while securing long-term funding and facing the challenges the group was created to combat: gang violence, poverty and the limiting effects of racism.

Thompson-Hernández’s integration of research into readable prose makes room for readers to grapple with the book’s toughest questions about bias, inequality and the future of the black cowboy tradition.