Condoleezza Rice – First Female African-American U.S. Secretary of State

Condoleezza Rice was born on November 14, 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in the neighborhood of Titusville. Condoleezza is the only child of Presbyterian Minister Reverend John Wesley Rice, Jr. and Angelina Ray. Reverend Rice was a guidance counselor at Ullman High School and the minister of Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was founded by his father. Her Mother, Angelina, was a science, music and oratory teacher at Ullman. H.S. Her name is derived from the Italian musical expression, Con dolcezza, which means “with sweetness”┬Ł. Condoleezza started learning French, music, figure skating, and ballet at age three. At the age of 15 she began classes with the goal of becoming a concert pianist. Eventually she changed her plans when she realized that she could not support herself through music alone. She still practices often and plays with a chamber music group.

As a young African-American growing up in Birmingham, Condoleezza learned first-hand about the injustices of discriminatory laws and attitudes. She suffered through various instances of discrimination: being sent to a storage room at a department store instead of the regular dressing room; being barred from going to the circus or local amusement park; being denied hotel rooms; even being served bad food at restaurants. Her parents tried to keep her from areas where she might face discrimination but she was very aware of the civil rights struggle. A neighbor, Juliemma Smith, recalls how a young Condoleezza used to call her and ask her opinion about current events. Juliemma “would have to read the newspaper thoroughly because I wouldn’t know what she was talking about.”

During the very violent days of the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend Rice armed himself and kept guard over the house while Condoleezza practiced the piano inside. Reverend Rice instilled in her and his students that black people would have to prove themselves worthy of advancement and would have to be “twice as good” to overcome injustices built into the system. Condoleezza has said, “My parents were very strategic, I was going to be so well prepared, and I was going to do all of these things that were revered in white society so well, that I would be armored somehow from racism. I would be able to confront white society on its own terms.”

Condoleezza was eight when her schoolmate Denise McNair, aged 11, was killed in the bombing of the primarily African-American 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists on September 15, 1963. She has commented upon that moment in her life:

“I remember the bombing of that Sunday school at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father’s church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate, Denise McNair. The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations. But those fears were not propelled forward, those terrorists failed.”

Condoleezza credits growing up during racial segregation taught her determination against adversity.

In 1967, the Rice family moved to Denver, Colorado. Condoleezza attended St. Mary’s Academy, a private all-girls Catholic high school in Cherry Hills Village and graduated in 1970. After studying piano at the Aspen Music Festival and School she enrolled at the University of Denver, where her father was an assistant dean and taught a class called “The Black Experience in America”. While at the University of Denver she attended a course on international politics taught by Josef Korbel, the father of future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her experience with this class sparked her interest in the Soviet Union and international relations. She has called Josef Korbel “one of the most central figures in my life.” In 1974, at the age of 19, she earned her B.A. in political science, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Denver. In 1975, she earned her Masters Degree in political science from the University of Notre Dame and returned to Denver to earn her Ph.D. in Political Science in 1981 from their Graduate School of International Studies. Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been awarded honorary doctorates from Morehouse College, the University of Alabama, the University of Notre Dame, the National Defense University, the Mississippi College School of Law, the University of Louisville and Michigan State University.

With her expertise on Russia and Eastern Europe, Dr. Rice began teaching political science at Stanford University in 1981. In 1989 she was a Director at Chevron, heading their committee on public policy. Dr. Rice has also served on numerous boards of directors besides Chevron: Carnegie Corporation, Charles Schwab Corporation, Hewlett Packard Corporation, Rand Corporation and Trans America Corporation.

From 1989 to 1991 she advised President Herbert Walker Bush, Sr. as Senior Director of Soviet Affairs and as a Special Assistant on the National Security Council during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German Unification. In 1992 she founded the Center of New Generation, an after-school program created to raise high school graduation numbers in California. In 1993 she returned to Stanford and was named Provost, the university’s budget and academic official.

Dr. Rice took a leave of absence from Stanford in 1999 to advise the George W. Bush Presidential campaign. On January 15, 2001 she was named President Bush’s National Security Advisor and then on January 28, 2005 she was sworn in as the 66th Secretary of State. She is the first female African-American to hold the position. In 2004 and 2005 Secretary Rice was named the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine.

“The work that America and our allies have undertaken, and the sacrifices we have made, have been difficult, and necessary, and right. Now is the time to build on these achievements, to make the world safer, and to make the world more free. We must use American diplomacy to help create a balance of power in the world that favors freedom. The time for diplomacy is now.”

Secretary Condoleezza Rice