Already a skilled pianist who played the European classical repertoire with ease, Condoleezza Rice defined her adult life when she took a class in the Introduction to International Politics at Denver University (DU) in Colorado.
She was just 18 and in the spring semester of her junior year at DU. Her professor was Josef Korbel, a liberal and cerebral authority on the Soviet Union. Korbel would become more than the future secretary of state’s mentor, for she would refer to him as her second father. (Josef Korbel’s daughter, Madeleine Albright, became the first woman to serve as secretary of state for the U. S. government.)
The Rice family had moved from segregated Birmingham, Alabama to Denver when Condoleezza was 13. She attended St Mary’s Academy, her first time being with white students. She excelled in figure ice skating and graduated from St. Mary’s at 16 while she was already a freshman at DU.
Disciplined and brilliant, Condoleezza Rice graduated from DU with honors and went on to Notre Dame University for her master’s degree. Then, she went back to DU, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1981 at age 26. The very private Ms. Rice did seriously date Notre Dame’s star black linebacker, Wayne Bullock, but her career path went way past the end zone.
That same year, 1981, Rice became a junior professor at Stanford University through the school’s affirmative-action program. The poise and self-confidence that got Rice hired at Stanford impressed Brent Scowcroft, the Republican national security expert, who hired her to work for him in 1988, in the first Bush administration.
Rice became the National Security Council’s director for the Soviet Union. Of course, she was already fluent in Russian. The rest is very public history.
You’ve seen that classy, powerful way she walks, her svelte figure fashionably attired. Well, Condi Rice is known to rise around 4:30 every morning and go through an exercise regime. As secretary of state, she was typically in her office before 7 a.m. Washington insiders say she usually retired by 10 p.m., and assiduously avoided the Washington party-go-round during her years there.
Born in 1954, the same year that the U. S. Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools, Rice, like all other black people in and around Birmingham and throughout the South, was deeply affected by segregation.
Vestiges of integration began to occur, then affirmative action and the women’s movement, all while Rice’s parents kept their only child focused on self development and individual progress.
Rice’s maternal grandmother began giving her piano lessons when she was three years old. As middle-class blacks – Condi’s mother was a teacher and her father a minister – Condi was somewhat sheltered from most of the hurting hate of white supremacy. They always had a car, for example, so Condi never had to ride a segregated bus.
But on Sunday morning, Sept. 15, 1963, Condoleezza Rice’s friend, Denise McNair, and three other girls were killed when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan.
Marcus Mabry, a black journalist who is chief of correspondents for Newsweek and an experienced foreign correspondent and editor, has written a must-read biography of Dr. Condoleezza Rice called, Twice As Good, Condoleezza Rice and her Path to Power.
Mabry writes about Dr. Rice: “She is a survivor of segregation who became one of the most recognizable members of a party that rose to national dominance in part through a ‘southern strategy’ that exploited white resentment over black civil rights gains. She is a beneficiary of both the civil rights movement and affirmative action who changed her party registration from Democrat to Republican in 1982. She has never gone in for identity politics; she is an evangelical for the power of individual will.”
Mabry goes on to ask, “Is her story, then, the culmination of the civil rights movement, or did her success unfold parallel to it, even in spite of it? Is she an example to millions of minorities and women (as well as white men), or is her path so unique that it doesn’t provide a road map for anyone else’s?”
I also recommend The Confidante, Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy, by Glenn Kessler, a white diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post. Kessler traveled with Dr. Rice as a reporter.
It is well worth the reading to get two important perspectives of a dynamic and powerful black woman who has been a key policy maker and negotiator of world affairs.