Condoleezza Rice signs her memoir at Stanford Bookstore

rice2CONDOLEEZZA RICE didn’t talk about the controversial Bush years, during which she served as national security adviser and secretary of state. Everyone expects the obligatory policy memoir with names and insider’s details, she said during a book signing at the Stanford Bookstore Monday. “Indeed, I have started and will finish that book.”

Instead, the professor of political science and political economy at Stanford and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution wanted to talk about John and Angelena Rice, the parents who figure prominently in her new memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People.

Rice’s mother taught English and was one of Willy Mays’ early teachers. Her father was a Presbyterian minister.

Part of what makes extraordinary people, Rice said, is “extraordinary times.” Birmingham, Alabama, was “themost segregated city in America,” she said, a place where “racism was quite hard-edged.” For the Stanford students who formed most of the crowd, it was a description of the lost and unimaginable reality.

Rice recalled the “horrors of Birmingham,” where she lost a childhood friend in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls in 1963, during the time the city was called “Bombingham.” Nevertheless, in the close-knit neighborhood where she grew up, the children were taught “we could not have a hamburger at Woolworth’s, but you could become president of the United States.”

In addition to the secretary of state, the community produced the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore, two Pulitzer Prize winners and a host of other luminaries.

Rice said she was taught: “There are no victims. You cannot control your circumstances, but you can control your response to circumstances.” She recalled her parents telling her, “‘You will have to be twice as good.’ That was the mantra.” Education was the path out.

—Cynthia Haven

Read more about Rice’s Bookstore engagement on The Book Haven.