When Piers Morgan questioned Condoleezza Rice in a 2011 interview about what she would cook for him, she replied, “… because of my half-Creole grandmother, I’d cook you gumbo.”
The former Secretary of State learned more than just cooking skills from Theresa Hardnett, the half-Creole from Louisiana who married John Wesley Rice in 1922. The determination that propelled her to political fame and success grew, in a large part, from those Creole roots. The Creole people of Louisiana are a mixed-race group who fought for survival as a culture under Spanish, French, and English rule. They were forced into slavery for a time after the Americans captured New Orleans in 1814, but, through everything, they struggled continuously to find success in spite of oppression. That fierce will was passed through the generations to Theresa’s son John Wesley Rice and then on to his only child, Condoleezza.
As a child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, the heart of the segregated South, Condi knew how it felt to be seated in special “colored” sections of restaurants. There were stores in which she and her family could not shop. She even once hesitated to approach Santa Claus at Christmas, not sure if she would be allowed to sit on the white man’s lap. Perhaps her most tragic memory is of the time when a playmate, Denise McNair, was killed in a racially-motivated bombing of a black Baptist church in Birmingham.
Born in 1954, she spent her childhood in the maelstrom of the southern civil rights movement. Years later, she would sit in the Oval Office of the White House, discussing policy and giving advice to the most powerful men on earth. The story of how one part-creole girl developed to gain the respect of so many is an inspirational one of determination and hard work.
Her parents never took part in any civil-rights demonstrations. They believed that education and perseverance would do more to lift black people out of oppression and poverty than any protest march. They insisted that Condoleezza speak perfect English, pay close attention to her studies, maintain a clean, attractive appearance, and set goals higher than most. According to Rice, her parents taught her, “… that it was a sin to consider yourself victimized, not able to control your destiny or your fate.”
Her father was a Presbyterian minister and both parents were educators so they pushed their child to control her destiny through education. Her mother, Angelina, was a church organist who loved opera.
Her daughter’s name is a variation of the Italian term, “con dolcezza,” which means, “to play with sweetness.” Condi started her education with piano lessons at the age of three. Pushed to excel at everything, the girl was ready to skip the first grade when it was time to start school. By the time she finished the sixth grade, her teachers felt she was ready for promotion directly to the eighth. In addition to long hours spent studying her school books, she found time to give piano recitals in her community. She also took French and Spanish lessons, and became a competitive figure skater.
Her father, who’d become a college administrator, moved the family to Denver, Colorado when Condi was in the tenth grade. She finished high school at 15 and began her first term at the University of Colorado at the same time, going to college in the morning and high school in the afternoon. She declared a music major at first, but changed her mind after taking a Russian history class under a Czechoslovakian refugee named Josef Korbel. Korbel became a mentor to her. He was used to intelligent, high-achieving women since he was himself was the father of Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State.
In college, Rice decided to add Russian to the list of languages she spoke, and majored in that nation’s history. From there, she went to Notre Dame University in Indiana where she completed her Master of Government and International Studies degree. For a time, Rice supported herself by giving piano lessons until Korbel suggested that she come back to Denver to work on her doctorate.
During that time, she was becoming noticed for her intelligence and ability to dissect complicated international conundrums. When she finished her dissertation, Stanford University offered her a fellowship, and Coloradan Gary Hart hired her to be his foreign-policy adviser during his failed 1984 presidential campaign. Another Colorado native, Brent Scowcroft, heard of her work, and lured her from her position as a political science professor at Stanford to be his aide when President George H. W. Bush appointed him as his National Security Advisor in 1988. Rice eventually became a special assistant to the first President Bush, a position that led to a personal friendship with the family, including son, George W. Bush.
After leaving Washington, Rice went back to Stanford where she was appointed as the university’s first female provost. Rice remembers it as the toughest job of her life. She was happy to leave it to help the younger Bush with his own bid for the presidency. Upon his victory, he rewarded her loyalty by appointing her as his National Security Advisor.
September 11, 2001 launched her into the international spotlight as Americans watched her work closely with President Bush to plan America’s reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center. She was both admired and reviled as the country split politically over the policies she help shape. The left blamed her, along with President Bush, for their failure to foresee the attack.
One often-played clip shows her defending the administration’s actions leading up to 9/11. Speaking of the famous Presidential Briefing Memo of August 6, 2001, Rice testified, It did not warn of attacks within the United States.
Asked if she recalled the name of the memo, Rice answered, Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.
Selected outtakes from her long testimony have been shown repeatedly on television comedy shows to make her appear foolish and uninformed to viewers who have little other information about her.
Rice herself has left the public eye and lives in a luxury apartment in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. She spends her time shopping and watching American Football, a passion she developed when her father worked as a football coach in Birmingham. When asked about her future plans, the creole girl turned world political superstar jokes, “I would love to serve as commissioner of the National Football League.”