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Rice, Condoleezza (1954- )

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Condoleezza Rice has earned distinction as a scholar, expert on international politics, and with her appointments as the first African American woman National Security Advisor and Secretary of State of the United States.

Rice was born on November 14, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama to John Wesley Rice, Jr., a Presbyterian minister and school counselor and Angelena (Ray) Rice, a public school teacher.  Influenced heavily by her parents, Rice, their only child, showed an exceptional intelligence and scholastic focus at a very early age.  Despite growing up in the black middle-class neighborhood of Titusville in Birmingham, the family could not escape the “Jim Crow” policies of that city.  Denise McNair, one of four young girls who died in the 16th St. Baptist Church Bombing in September 1963, was Rice’s childhood friend and playmate.  

The Rice family moved to Denver, Colorado in 1967 when Rev. Rice accepted an administrative position at the University of Denver.  Two years later at the age of 15, Condoleezza entered college at the University of Denver with the intention of majoring in concert piano.  She soon changed her mind and her academic direction after taking an international politics course from Josef Korbel, who was the father of future United States Secretary of State Madeline Albright.  Young Rice became fascinated with Russian politics and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science at the age of 19.  By 20, she had a master’s degree from The University of Notre Dame, and by 26 she had returned to the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver to earn her Ph.D., with both advanced degrees in political science.

After earning her Ph.D., Rice became an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University and later became a fellow at the prestigious Hoover Institute on that campus.  Drawing on her expertise in Russian politics, Rice became increasingly involved in the federal government, serving as a Special Assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1986, and Director of Soviet and Eastern European Affairs for the National Security Council in 1989.  In 1991, Rice returned to Stanford University as Provost (the second highest administrative rank on campus after the university president).  She was the first woman, first person of color, and the youngest (age 36) to hold the post, and she helped transform a $20 million annual deficit into a $14 million surplus in just three years.

When George W. Bush was elected President of the United States in 2001, he chose Rice as his National Security Advisor, making her the first woman and only the second African American (after Colin Powell) to hold the position.  In 2005, after Colin Powell’s resignation as Secretary of State, Rice was chosen as the 66th Secretary of State, one of the most powerful positions in federal government. She was the second woman (after Madeline Albright) to hold this position.

As a principal architect of the foreign policy of the Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice has had both proponents and detractors in the United States and abroad.  There is no denying, however, that her focus, determination, scholastic prowess, professional achievements, and expertise in international politics led her to hold pivotal posts in the government of the United States.  

Antonio Felix, Condi: The Condoleezza Rice Story (New Market Press, New York, NY 2002);


University of Washington

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