Condoleezza Rice’s Family Matters

In this clip from American Creed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls childhood memories and explains how her family legacy has influenced who she is today.

Transcript (Text)

There are always going to be gaps between a country's aspiration and the reality. And so we're always fighting to overcome that gap. We're always trying to get close to what the ideal is.

While teaching children about world religion, a teacher asked her students to bring a symbol of their faith to class. They did that. The first child said, I'm Muslim and this is my prayer rug. The second child said, I'm Jewish and this is my family menorah. The third child said, I'm a member of the black church, and this is a copy of my family's gospel song book, and I also brought a copy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And so it goes in America.

I think everyone has to come to terms at some point with your home and how it shaped you.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Growing up as a little girl in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, where you couldn't even go to a restaurant, couldn't go to a movie theater, in that Birmingham, Alabama, we were still being told America is yours and you can succeed here.

And as I think back, under the pressures of Jim Crow segregation, with all of these negative signals around their kids about how America did not accept them, that's quite a trick that those parents pulled off. And it almost always came down to if you could be educated, then you had a kind of armor against prejudice. You had a kind of armor against barriers to opportunity. And so for black American families, education became the Holy Grail.

John Wesley Rice Sr, my grandfather, was a sharecropper's son in Greene County, Alabama. His mother was a freed slave who had taught him how to read, and he decides he's going to go to college. So he saved up his cotton and he went off to Stillman in Tuscaloosa, paid for his first year of college, got through it. And then they said, so how are you going to pay for your second year? He said, well, I'm out of cotton. And they said, well, you're out of luck.

He says to them, so how are those boys going to college? They said, well, what you have to understand is they have what's called a scholarship. And if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, then you could have a scholarship too. And my grandfather says, you know, that is exactly what I had in mind. And my family's been Presbyterian—and by the way, college educated—ever since.

That access to education was going to change everything, and not just for him, but for generations to come. Granddaddy Rice founded churches in Mississippi and Louisiana and Alabama. And then, it was his pattern to found not just church, but a school.

My grandfather would go door to door and say to parents, you know, your daughter's smart and she ought to go to college. And so I'm going to get her a scholarship. For Granddaddy Rice, that was the promise of our country, that you can be and do anything you want, but you can't leave others behind. Faith matters, family matters, community matters—that was my family's tradition.

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