James W. Compton (born April 7, 1939 in Aurora, Illinois), was president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League from 1978–2006. During his tenure, the Chicago Urban League refocused its interest in education and economic development and developed a new emphasis on community empowerment.
James Compton received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College in 1961. While at Morehouse he received the Charles E. Merrill Fellowship, which enabled him to study at the University of Grenoble in France from 1959–1961. He also participated as a student representative of the United States in the US-Soviet Union Cultural Exchange Program from 1959–1960.
Career and Accomplishments
At Morehouse College, James Compton worked with Benjamin Mays, the college president and legendary educator. Compton was active in the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and brought that interest with him to Chicago. He worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1966 when King moved to Chicago to initiate a campaign to end discrimination in housing, employment and schools in the north. Prior to returning to Chicago, Compton served as the founding Executive Director of the Broome County Urban League in Binghamton, New York. Compton was with the National Urban League and the Chicago Urban League in various capacities until he was named President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League in 1978. In addition to putting the agency on a firm financial base, he is credited with changing the organization from primarily a social service organization to a research organization advocating for public policy, ensuring that the League had a voice on issues affecting the urban poor and the African American community.
Compton is a member of several boards, including ComEd, DePaul University, Ariel Mutual Funds, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Big Shoulders Fund, Morehouse Research Institute, and the Seaway Bank and Trust Company. He has also been Board President of the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Board of Education, and is a Life Trustee of the Field Museum of Natural History.
James Compton, interview by Julieanna Richardson, November 8, 2001 and May 16, 2002, transcript, HistoryMakers.
Who’s Who Among African Americans. 18th edition, 2005. Detroit: Thomson Gale.