Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is the hero of many a young girl in America. But do you know who Condoleezza Rice’s heroes are?
Condoleezza Rice grew up in Birmingham, Ala. before the civil rights movement -- at a time when the town was rightly called "the most thoroughly segregated city in the country." She was surrounded by violence from hate-filled people including the Ku Klux Klan and racial segregation as the result of Jim Crow laws.
Condi had a front-row seat in the midst of the civil rights movement when historic events occurred almost daily. Condi was in Birmingham when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous letter from the Birmingham jail. She was there the day of the famous Children’s March. She was there as small girl as others died nearby in multiple bombings. In fact, Birmingham’s nickname became "Bombingham" because in just 1963 alone, 40 bombs went off in the city.
As a child of eight, she lost a neighborhood friend, Denise McNair, in a Sunday-morning church bombing. McNair died along with three other young ladies. Having experienced "homegrown terrorism," as Condi calls it, the violence left a lasting impact on her and she still vividly recalls hearing the bomb explode a few blocks away at her own church, describing the blast as "a sound that will forever reverberate in my ears."
"I know what it means to hold dreams and aspirations when half your neighbors think you are incapable of, or uninterested in, anything better," says Condi. Until she was nine years old, the only non-segregated restaurant that she had ever eaten at was on a trip to Washington, D.C. with her parents. Legal punishments could be imposed on people for consorting with members of another race. Frequently, the laws forced public institutions and business owners to keep blacks and whites separated. Signs reading "Whites Only" or "Colored" were posted, restricting non-whites from access to restaurants, restrooms, water fountains and waiting rooms. There were also separate hospitals, schools and other public areas. Countless courageous people, some known and others unknown, have played a part in the struggle to bring equality to all citizens of America. With President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, segregation became outlawed and a whole new world was opened to Condi and other African Americans.
Condi’s heroes are two women leaders from the civil rights movement. One woman Condi greatly admires is the late Rosa Parks. The civil rights movement has been declared launched by many historians on December 1, 1955, the day Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law under which Parks had been fined following her arrest, thus outlawing racial segregation on public transportation. When Parks died in 2005, Condi honored her by sitting in the front row of the church at her funeral.
Condi believes that the legal changes are only part of the civil rights story. Equally important were the people who had prepared and educated themselves to take advantage of the laws when the changes in law finally did arrive.
Condi’s other hero is also an outstanding woman leader in the struggle for civil rights and equality. Her name is Dr. Dorothy Height. Although she may not be as famous as some of the other movement leaders, she has made tremendous contributions to the black community. Condi spoke to Ebony magazine about influential black leaders in her life, including this special lady: "I remember the stories about all of them…the well-known people, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, were, of course, a part of my life. But probably to me, my personal heroine is Dr. Dorothy Height…People who had that foresight to see, as the struggle unfolded, that education was the key to having a whole generation of people who were ready to take advantage once the United States came to terms with segregation were my heroes"
Dr. Height is one of the nation’s top human rights leaders. She was the only woman in the "Big Six," a prominent group of civil rights leaders that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The members made plans for the civil rights movement. She has received numerous prestigious awards commending her work to promote black family life and for reinforcing the historic strengths and traditional values of the African-American family. President Reagan bestowed the Citizens Medal Award on her "for her tireless efforts on behalf of the less fortunate" and President Bush awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her many contributions to the nation. "People need to see each other as people, not as races," says Dr. Height, and she credits her mother with teaching her to help others and to deal with prejudice and hatred. The principle of self-reliance is behind many of the programs that Height started, with a special emphasis on black woman and children. These values also ring true with Condi.
Condi’s parents followed the same philosophy as Dr. Height. They believed that one day the walls of segregation would fall, and they wanted their daughter ready for that day. They gave her a boost of self-confidence and a wonderful education so that she would be prepared and strengthened to become anything that she wanted.
Condi says it this way, "My parents had me absolutely convinced that, well, you may not be able to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s but you can be president of the United States."