'Honored to have the chance,' - Failure was never an option for 'Condi' Rice

by By Wil Haygood, Globe Staff

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – She has long been a kind of dazzling blur upon the TV screens. A flash, then gone.p. That lady beside George W. Bush.p. Stylish in that Lena Horne way.p. She will be the national security adviser in the Bush administration. Colin Powell will be the secretary of state. Two of the most powerful people guarding America’s safety, her borders, sky to land, are black.p. Well, the Constitution is supposed to be a color-blind document. But still, she knows. There’s such juiciness in it. The content of her character, and not the color of her skin. All in the service of her America.p. “I’m honored to have the chance,” Condoleezza Rice says. “It’ll be a remarkable thing. We’re only what — 140 years out of slavery?”p. The world knows Colin Powell, the secretary of state nominee who has the Vietnam War medals, who, as the nation’s top military man, directed the Gulf War.p. But who is Condoleezza Rice? What forces propelled this 46-year-old woman into an unstoppable academic career and, now, into what looks to be an unstoppable political rise?p. You’d have to go to Birmingham, Ala., to find out. You’d have to understand John Rice, her ministering father, and Angelena, her mother, who saw music as life and life — even in the face of tyranny — as music. You’d have to talk with those who knew Condoleezza Rice when she was in a place where at any time the “child” in every child could get snuffed out.p. In Birmingham, in a certain year — say, 1963 — a child could be skipping rope one day. And buried in church rubble the next. And gone unto God’s green earth soon thereafter.p. You’d have to understand why a minister packed his Bibles — while his wife packed the music sheets and the books — and left the church his father had founded. Couldn’t worry too much about the congregation’s tears. Had a movement to lead.p. John and Angelena Rice left Birmingham because of the child sitting all alone in the backseat of their Dodge. That was their movement. Loved Martin Luther King. Loved Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, too. Both heroes of the movement. But the Rices weren’t going to be involved with the fall of segregated Birmingham.p. Their movement was reduced to one child.p. And they’d get her to the finest institutions.p. And they’d watch her play music on a Steinway.p. And they’d listen to her speak exotic languages.p. And go to school in 10 feet of snow if necessary.p. Alabama fear was one thing; to allow her to fail was far deeper.p. “I’d play games reading license plates,” says the child – all grown up now – of her odyssey out of Birmingham.p. High expectations p. He was the son of a preacher man. He was an imposing man whose laughter carried. But those who heard John Rice preach at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in the Titusville neighborhood of Birmingham recall his sermons as thoughtful and quiet. His wife, Angelena, was honey-colored and elegant and musically inclined.p. Their only child was born Nov. 14, 1954.p. “They had high expectations of me, but nothing ever mattered except that I was their kid,” Condoleezza Rice is recalling of her upbringing. She’s on the phone from her home near the Stanford University campus in California.p. She was in awe of her mother’s grace. “My mother was stunningly beautiful,” she says. “She was tremendously talented. Many of my earliest memories of her are when we would go to shop. I remember how much exposure she gave me to the arts. I remember when I was six she bought me this recording of Aida. She was determined that in segregated Birmingham I would be exposed to culture.”p. John Rice had a college degree. He taught at segregated Ullman High School in Birmingham in addition to his ministering duties. Extra money was for Condoleezza’s ballet lessons. For her books. For their summertime travels to show her America. “They saw the talent this kid had,” says Odessa Woolfolk, who taught in Birmingham with John Rice and now heads Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute. “They were not going to let her be denied by virtue of living in a segregated community.”p. For a little Negro girl living in a place called Birmingham it was something of a gilded existence.p. “I don’t think they overindulged her,” says Woolfolk. “The fact that this is a religious family balanced that doting nature of families with an only child. She was protected, but I don’t think she was selfish.”p. Rice pouted one day about piano lessons. She thought of quitting. “I had been the cute little piano prodigy,” she says. "But I was getting bored. My mother said, ’You’re not old enough, or good enough, to make that decision on your own.’ "p. On the road during travels, big John Rice would point out the window as if he were bequeathing all the fruits of America to the child in the back seat.p. “We almost always stopped on college campuses,” Condoleezza Rice recalls of those summer outings. “Other kids visited Yellowstone National Park. I visited college campuses. I remember us driving 100 miles out of the way to visit Ohio State in Columbus.”p. John Rice also coached football and took his daughter to games.p. He fretted about the slights his daughter might have to confront. “One of the things prevalent in the black community was your parents would shield you from unpleasant experiences,” says Woolfolk. ‘You would drink your water at home so you wouldn’t be subjected to those emotional experiences of drinking at second-class fountains."p. On Sept. 15, 1963 — John Rice in his pulpit, little Condoleezza in her pew seat — a bomb went off at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Everyone inside Westminster Presbyterian heard it.p. Four died in the bombing. Four little girls swinging purses from their little wrists on a fall Sunday morning.p. A lot of folk started calling the city “Bombingham.”p. “That was the year of all the bombings,” Rice says of 1963. “We knew Fred Shuttlesworth fairly well. Arthur Shores was a friend. His house was bombed several times. Here was a period when the movement turned violent. I remember my father and his friends patrolling the neighborhood because there were nightriders.”p. There were massive demonstrations, followed by massive arrests. When the jails were too full, police would take many of the children over to Kelly Ingram Park, or to the fairgrounds. Placed under arrest, they’d have to loll beneath tents. Mommas looked for kids like treasure hunters.p. “They drove me over to the fairgrounds when the jails were too filled and children were put there under tents,” Rice recalls of her parents. “I remember watching TV the night the Civil Rights Act passed. A couple of days later we went for the first time to an integrated restaurant in Birmingham.”p. Before the ‘60s ended, the Rices had left Birmingham.p. It wasn’t about Birmingham.p. It was about the child.p. She was 14 years old now.p. John Rice got himself a job at a college in Denver.p. It was time to get the child into college.p. She entered the University of Denver at the age of 15.p. She graduated magna cum laude.p. She set her sights on the University of Notre Dame for graduate work. No easy feat to get in there. Took her degree in 1975.p. It was as if the fingers of Great Achievement were being snapped. First the BA, then the MA.p. The final snap: The doctorate from the University of Denver in 1981, in international studies. She liked foreign policy.p. “Because she had this inner confidence her parents had instilled in her,” recalls Woolfolk, "she didn’t look in the mirror and ask that dumb question: ‘Can I do well in foreign policy?’ "p. Another finger snap: Faculty member, Stanford University, 1981. She was 27 years old.p. The folks in Birmingham were astonished. It was as if Condoleezza Rice had landed on the moon itself.p. A turn to the GOP Evelyn Glover has been a teacher all her life. A minister by the name of John Rice Senior steered her to tiny Stillman College in Alabama, where she met her husband, Phillip. The Glovers were members of Westminster Presbyterian Church. John Rice Junior — father of Condoleezza Rice — married them.p. “Her mother was an organist for our church,” Evelyn Glover is saying, seated at her dining room table. "Her mother played beautifully. And as a little girl, Condi sat with her mother. Her father had mentioned to us once, ‘Condi doesn’t belong to us. She belongs to God.’ "p. Evelyn Glover remembers Angelena Rice as shy. “She was just a private person.” But she says everyone in the community noticed when the Rices were climbing into their Dodge, taking off. “I think they always wanted to make sure she was exposed to the best,” says Evelyn Glover of Condoleezza.p. Back in March of 1974, still in college at the University of Denver and not yet of voting age, Condi, as her friends sometimes call her, came home to Birmingham.p. A terrible city.p. But home.p. So a lovely city.p. Where your daddy’s church still stands.p. Where Evelyn Glover will sweat in her kitchen getting a Southern dinner ready just for you.p. When Condoleezza Rice came home that March week, the ladies of Westminster Presbyterian Church fussed over her. Rice gave a recital. “Her mother turned the pages when she gave the recital,” remembers Evelyn Glover.p. Afterward, Glover presented Condi Rice with a gold-colored trophy and she beamed when she cupped it in her hands.p. Two years later Condoleezza Rice cast her first vote in a presidential election. “I voted for Jimmy Carter and I was a registered Democrat and might never have changed parties were it not for what I thought was our mishandling of the Cold War,” she now says. “I thought the Soviets were aggressive and playing us like a violin. I thought Carter didn’t understand the true nature of the Soviet Union, which was pretty dark. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December of ’79, Carter said something to the effect that he learned more about the Soviet Union then than anytime in his life. Then he boycotted the Olympics. I thought it was weak.”p. The next time she cast a vote it was for Ronald Reagan.p. Both Evelyn and Phillip Glover are Democrats. Although Phillip Glover once went over to the Republican Party, it was Condoleezza Rice’s father who shoved him in that direction.p. “During the ’50s, when the Democrats were in power, it was hard for black people to vote,” Phillip Glover is saying. “A deterrent was the poll tax. When John Rice found out I was taking the civil service exam, he related it to Frank Hunter, a Republican member of our church. And he got in touch with the postmaster, who was a Republican.”p. And Phillip Glover, with his college degree, became a mail carrier. Proud to have such a job in Birmingham.p. In 1952, John Rice himself went to vote in Birmingham. Stood there with his ministerial credentials and all his college learning. A man pointed to a jar. The jar was full of beans. The man told Reverend John Rice that if he could guess the number of beans in the jar, he could vote. When he told Phillip Glover about the experience, there was bitterness in his voice.p. John Rice found a Republican to help him get registered. He never looked back.p. “I’ve told her we’re on different sides of the fence,” Evelyn Glover says about Condoleezza Rice’s Republican credentials. “But in a nice way.”p. Rice remains single. (Her unusual first name is taken from a musical expression, con docezza, which means “with sweetness.” Glover believes Rice has had to sacrifice some parts of her personal life for her rise. “I’ve never asked her about her marriage life,” Evelyn Glover says. “I told my husband I think a lot of black women marry too early. I don’t think she would have accomplished as much so soon if she would have married.”p. Angelena Rice died in Colorado in 1985. It was cancer. She was 61. “I never shall forget the day we returned from her mother’s funeral,” says Evelyn Glover. “When we came in, Condoleezza prayed with everyone and said, ’Let’s play some of mother’s favorite hymns.’ And she went to the piano.”p. John Rice, now 77 and remarried, lives in California near his daughter. She calls daily. “Hi, darling,” he will say. And there’s not much strength to say much more.p. He watched her appointment as national security adivser on television. He couldn’t take his eyes from the TV screen. Couldn’t do much but cry. So he did. “Had tears in his eyes,” says Clara Rice, John Rice’s second wife. “People would call and I would put the phone to his ear,” she says.p. An old man. With a failing heart. Staring at the Great Expectation herself.p. Just another snap of the finger.p. Long way from Birmingham.p. Long way from Denver.p. Long way from everywhere.p. Sees challenges aplenty p. It was Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the elder President Bush, who first brought Rice into government service. She had been on the academician’s path, teaching at Stanford University when Scowcroft brought her to Washington.p. Rice served as special assistant for national security affairs under Bush, specializing in Soviet and East European affairs. She was in the Bush White House during momentous events: the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the disintegration of the Soviet empire.p. Fluent in Russian, she has caused double-takes aplenty. Some have wondered if she’s comfortable in the dominant white male world of international relations.p. “I never have felt lonely or stressed in these environments,” she says. “I think the Russians would sometimes feel, ’What’s a girl like you doing here amidst bombs and bullets?’ But you just get caught up in the 14-15 hour days.”p. Rice has often been wooed by Republican Party officials to run for elective office. She has always declined.p. To read Rice’s speeches or writings is to glean that she is a steadfast hawk.p. “The president must remember that the military is a special instrument,” she has written. “It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society.”p. She was criticized earlier this year for doubting whether American forces should continue such a large role in international peacekeeping.p. Rice sees challenges all over the globe. “There are big challenges out there,” she says. “But also very hopeful signs. We have more democratic states in the world than at any other time in history. When I get worried about things, the country I look at is Poland. In 1989, Poland looked like it had no chance out of its crisis. But its economy has now done well. You really have to be optimistic about this period.”p. Rice debates, often good naturedly, with her black friends who wonder why she is a Republican. “I’m in the GOP for the right reasons. I like our foreign policy stance better. I really am a smaller government person. I don’t think every solution is in Washington.”p. Condoleezza Rice was in Birmingham last spring. She was talking to friends, women who fought for the vote, women who remember her climbing in and out of her daddy’s Dodge, women who remember the way Angelena Rice’s eyes would lock on her daughter whenever she came into view. It was before the election and it seemed that Condoleezza Rice herself was sensing something momentous. "She said to us, ‘I need thee every hour,’ " says Evelyn Glover, recalling Rice’s quoting of an old Negro spiritual. “And everyone was just so silent.”p. p. Thursday, December 21, 2000

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