Interview with Toni Johnson-Chavis

What kind of high school did you go to and how well were you prepared academically for college?


I went to Compton High School, ah, in 1969. I graduated, ah, Compton High was a remarkable school in that, ah, it's in a area that rapidly went from a basically all White city to all Black city in a matter of seven or eight years. In 1963 the school was primarily White. In 1969, I would say, it was probably 80 percent Black. The school, ah, is probably similar to most inner city schools now. There's a very, ah, diligent push with a lot of the, the teachers at that time to encourage and push the students to go to college. Preparation for college I think was poor. Ah, simple things, such as using slide rules and, were not, ah, taught, so that by the time I was accepted to Stanford and went there, I was really ill-prepared as compared to the other students even though I had fairly high SAT scores. The actual preparation for pre-med curriculum at a school such as San- Stanford was, ah, it was poor. So I was definitely at a selective disadvantage, ah, going into the school in terms of prior preparation. When you consider that other students are going to, ah, Ivy League Schools or even the University of California system, some of those schools have come out of prep schools, particularly when you talk about Stanford. So that when you take someone who's come from an inner city background, those people are at a mark- marked disadvantage as compared to, ah, the other students that are with them. It was a very enjoyable experience. It was primarily all Black. I had been raised in Compton all my life. Ah, my parents bought a home shortly after I was born in 1952, so I saw the real transition from a primarily all White city to a city that rapidly became Black, ah, in the '50s and the '60s. I really enjoyed it in terms of close bonds with other students, so that in terms of social acquisition and comfort, I think that that was the bonus of having gone to an all Black school. There was a wonderful Principal at that time by the name of Aaron Wade who came from a typical southern education type of background. So there was a marked push on educational opportunities, so although it was lacking in terms of what I actually could learn in total in terms of preparation, it was very, ah, beneficial in terms of offering a fairly caring, motivated environment. And I think that that proved to be a very valuable point later on, ah, in school.