Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
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Condoleezza Rice has excelled as a diplomat, political scientist, and concert pianist. Her achievements run the gamut from helping to oversee the collapse of communism in Europe and the decline of the Soviet Union, to working to protect the country in the aftermath of 9-11, to becoming only the second woman - and the first black woman ever -- to serve as Secretary of State.
But until she was 25 she never learned to swim.
Not because she wouldn't have loved to, but because when she was a little girl in Birmingham, Alabama, Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor decided he'd rather shut down the city's pools than give black citizens access.
Throughout the 1950's, Birmingham's black middle class largely succeeded in insulating their children from the most corrosive effects of racism, providing multiple support systems to ensure the next generation would live better than the last. But by 1963, when Rice was applying herself to her fourth grader's lessons, the situation had grown intolerable. Birmingham was an environment where blacks were expected to keep their head down and do what they were told -- or face violent consequences. That spring two bombs exploded in Rice’s neighborhood amid a series of chilling Klu Klux Klan attacks. Months later, four young girls lost their lives in a particularly vicious bombing.
So how was Rice able to achieve what she ultimately did?
Her father, John, a minister and educator, instilled a love of sports and politics. Her mother, a teacher, developed Condoleezza’s passion for piano and exposed her to the fine arts. From both, Rice learned the value of faith in the face of hardship and the importance of giving back to the community. Her parents’ fierce unwillingness to set limits propelled her to the venerable halls of Stanford University, where she quickly rose through the ranks to become the university’s second-in-command. An expert in Soviet and Eastern European Affairs, she played a leading role in U.S. policy as the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union disintegrated. Less than a decade later, at the apex of the hotly contested 2000 presidential election, she received the exciting news – just shortly before her father’s death – that she would go on to the White House as the first female National Security Advisor.
As comfortable describing lighthearted family moments as she is recalling the poignancy of her mother’s cancer battle and the heady challenge of going toe-to-toe with Soviet leaders, Rice holds nothing back in this remarkably candid telling. This is the story of Condoleezza Rice that has never been told, not that of an ultra-accomplished world leader, but of a little girl – and a young woman -- trying to find her place in a sometimes hostile world and of two exceptional parents, and an extended family and community, that made all the difference.
From the Hardcover edition.
for a couple of hours, charging twenty-five cents a session. When the students would leave I’d go to the piano and pretend to play, banging at the keys and “reading” the music. Then I’d ask to take some sheet music home so I could “practice.” Each day I’d leave with music, usually forgetting to bring it back the next day. To preserve her music collection, Grandmother finally gave me a regular book to take home. “Grandmother, this isn’t music!” I told her. Grandmother Ray decided that it was
particularly put off when I caught my parents putting an egg in my basket so that I would not be embarrassed if I failed to find one. I asked them to stop doing that, protesting that I was smart enough to find a stupid egg if I wanted to. I just didn’t want to. My father was a terrific preacher, though he rarely raised his voice above a normal speaking tone. “He was known as a pastor who made you think before you could feel,” to quote one of his elders. This “lecture style” of preaching brought
involved several other men from the church and the community in what is now called mentoring. Youth Fellowship met every Sunday afternoon at four in the church, with social activities for high school kids. My father and a parishioner named Miss Julia Emma Smith arranged panel discussions, tutoring sessions, and a one-week summer leadership conference at Stillman College. Daddy wanted the kids to know that there was a bigger and different world outside of their immediate environment. He
I’d produced, the renewal of undergraduate education that Gerhard and I had championed, and the repair of the physical campus. Even the students had come to like me. When I announced I was stepping down from the post, the Stanford Daily ran an editorial entitled “Farewell, Provost Rice,” which featured a line that I will always treasure: “Condi leaves a legacy as a powerful administrator who cares about students.” Even the minority communities—particularly the black community—showed its
corridors of power is truly remarkable. Paying homage to her inspiring family, Extraordinary, Ordinary People is a portrait of loving parents who taught their daughter to conquer adversity with determination and education. As we meet her elegant mother and vibrant father, Rice introduces us to her community of middle-class blacks who, in the 1950s, stood poised to topple George Wallace’s call for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Rice’s family of ministers and