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"Extraordinary, Ordinary People" by CONDOLEEZZA RICE. Excerpt: Chapters 1 & 2

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  • Peter Dow
    Extraordinary, Ordinary People A Memoir of Family CONDOLEEZZA RICE       To my parents, John and Angelena Rice, and my grandparents: Mattie and Albert Ray,
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 25, 2010
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      Extraordinary,
      Ordinary People
      A Memoir of Family
      CONDOLEEZZA
      RICE
       
       
       
      To my parents,
      John and Angelena Rice,
      and my grandparents:
      Mattie and Albert Ray,
      and
      John and Theresa Rice
       
      Contents
      Author’s Note viii
      One Starting Early 1
      Two The Rays and the Rices 7

      Three Married at Last 20
      Four “Johnny, It’s a Girl!” 32
      Five “I Need a Piano!” 40
      Six My Parents Were Teachers 49
      Seven Something in the Water 59
      Eight School Days 70
      Nine Summer Respite 78
      Ten Turning Up the Heat in Birmingham 83
      Eleven 1963 88
      Twelve Integration? 104
      Thirteen Tuscaloosa 110
      Fourteen Denver Again 120
      Fifteen Leaving the South Behind 131
      Sixteen Cancer Intrudes 142
      Seventeen Starting Early (Again) 147
      Eighteen College Years 154
      Nineteen A Change of Direction 159
      Twenty “Rally, Sons (and Daughters) of Notre Dame” 168
      Twenty-One A New Start 173
      Twenty-Two A Lost Year 182
      Twenty-Three Senator Stanford’s Farm 189
      Twenty-Four My Rookie Season 202
      Twenty-Five The Darkest Moment of My Life 215
      Twenty-Six “The Moving Van Is Here” 223
      Twenty-Seven Inside the Pentagon 230
      Twenty-Eight Back to Stanford 239
      Twenty-Nine D.C. Again 244
      Thirty “I Don’t Think This Is What Karl Marx Had in Mind” 254
      Thirty-One Back in California 271
      Thirty-Two Learning Compassion 276
      Thirty-Three Finding a New President for Stanford 282
      Thirty-Four Provost of the University 287
      Thirty-Five Tough Decisions 293
      Thirty-Six The Governor’s Campaign 311
      Thirty-Seven Florida 318
      Thirty-Eight “The Saints Go Marching In” 322
      A Note on Sources 327
      Acknowledgments 330
      Index 334

      Author’s Note
      John and Angelena Rice were extraordinary, ordinary
      people. They were middle-class folks who loved God, family,
      and their country. I don’t think they ever read a book on parenting.
      They were just good at it — not perfect, but really good.
      They loved each other unreservedly and built a world together
      that wove the fibers of our life — faith, family, community, and
      education — into a seamless tapestry of high expectations and
      unconditional love. And somehow they raised their little girl in
      Jim Crow Birmingham to believe that even if she couldn’t have a
      hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she could be President
      of the United States.
       
      As it became known that I was writing a book about my parents,
      I received many letters and emails from people who knew
      my mom and dad, telling me how my parents had touched their
      lives. In conducting this journey into the past I had the pleasure
      of returning to the places my parents lived and talking with their
      friends, associates, and students.
       
      I was also contacted by people who didn’t know my parents
      but recognized in my story their own parents’ love and sacrifice.
      Good parents are a blessing. Mine were determined to give me
      a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded,
      and that is why every night I begin my prayers saying, “Lord, I
      can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me.”
       
      Extraordinary,
      Ordinary People
       
      Chapter One
       
      Starting Early

      Chapter One

      Starting Early

      My parents were anxious to give me a head start in
      life—perhaps a little too anxious. My first memory of
      confronting them and in a way declaring my independence was a
      conversation concerning their ill-conceived attempt to send me
      to first grade at the ripe age of three. My mother was teaching
      at Fairfield Industrial High School in Alabama, and the idea was
      to enroll me in the elementary school located on the same campus.
      I don’t know how they talked the principal into going along,
      but sure enough, on the first day of school in September 1958,
      my mother took me by the hand and walked me into Mrs. Jones’
      classroom.

      I was terrified of the other children and of Mrs. Jones, and
      I refused to stay. Each day we would repeat the scene, and each
      day my father would have to pick me up and take me to my
      grandmother’s house, where I would stay until the school day
      ended. Finally I told my mother that I didn’t want to go back
      because the teacher wore the same skirt every morning. I am sure
      this was not literally true. Perhaps I somehow already understood
      that my mother believed in good grooming and appropriate
      attire. Anyway, the logic of my argument aside, Mother and
      Daddy got the point and abandoned their attempt at really early
      childhood education.

      I now think back on that time and laugh. John and Angelena
      were prepared to try just about anything — or to let me try just
      about anything — that could be called an educational opportunity.
      They were convinced that education was a kind of armor shielding
      me against everything — even the deep racism in Birmingham
      and across America.

      They were bred to those views. They were both born in the
      South at the height of segregation and racial prejudice — Mother
      just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1924 and Daddy in
      Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1923. They were teenagers during
      the Great Depression, old enough to remember but too young to
      adopt the overly cautious financial habits of their parents. They
      were of the first generation of middle-class blacks to attend historically
      black colleges — institutions that previously had been for
      the children of the black elite. And like so many of their peers,
      they rigorously controlled their environment to preserve their
      dignity and their pride.

      Objectively, white people had all the power and blacks had
      none. “The White Man,” as my parents called “them,” controlled
      politics and the economy. This depersonalized collective noun
      spoke to the fact that my parents and their friends had few interactions
      with whites that were truly personal. In his wonderful
      book Colored People, Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates
      Jr. recalled that his family and friends in West Virginia addressed
      white people by their professions—for example, “Mr. Policeman”
      or “Mr. Milkman.” Black folks in Birmingham didn’t even have
      that much contact. It was just “The White Man.”

      Certainly, in any confrontation with a white person in Alabama
      you were bound to lose. But my parents believed that you
      could alter that equation through education, hard work, perfectly
      spoken English, and an appreciation for the “finer things”
      in “their” culture. If you were twice as good as they were, “they”
      might not like you but “they” had to respect you. One could
      find space for a fulfilling and productive life. There was nothing
      worse than being a helpless victim of your circumstances. My
      parents were determined to avoid that station in life. Needless to
      say, they were even more determined that I not end up that way.

      My parents were not blue bloods. Yes, there were blue bloods
      who were black. These were the families that had emerged during
      Reconstruction, many of whose patriarchs had been freed
      well before slavery ended. Those families had bloodlines going
      back to black lawyers and doctors of the late nineteenth century;
      some of their ancestral lines even included political figures such
      as Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black United States senator.
      There were pockets of these families in the Northeast and a large
      colony in Chicago. Some had attended Ivy League schools, but
      others, particularly those from the South, sent their children to
      such respected institutions as Meharry Medical College, Fisk,
      Morehouse, Spelman, and the Tuskegee Institute. In some cases
      these families had been college-educated for several generations.

      My mother’s family was not from this caste, though it
      was more patrician than my father’s. Mattie Lula Parrom, my
      maternal grandmother, was the daughter of a high-ranking official,
      perhaps a bishop, in the African Methodist Episcopal
      Church. Though details about her father, my great-grandfather,
      are sketchy, he was able to provide my grandmother with a first-rate
      education for a “colored” girl of that time. She was sent to
      a kind of finishing school called St. Mark’s Academy and was
      taught to play the piano by a European man who had come from
      Vienna. Grandmother had rich brown skin and very high cheekbones,
      exposing American Indian blood that was obvious, if ill-defined.
      She was deeply religious, unfailingly trusting in God,
      and cultured.

      My grandfather Albert Robinson Ray III was one of six siblings,
      extremely fair-skinned and possibly the product of a white
      father and black mother. His sister Nancy had light eyes and
      auburn hair. There was also apparently an Italian branch of the
      family on his mother’s side, memorialized in the names of successive
      generations. There are several Altos; my mother and her
      grandmother were named Angelena; my aunt was named Genoa
      (though, as southerners, we call her “Gen-OH-a”); my cousin is
      Lativia; and I am Condoleezza, all attesting to that part of our
      heritage.

      Granddaddy Ray’s story is a bit difficult to tie down because
      he ran away from home when he was thirteen and did not reconnect
      with his family until he was an adult. According to family
      lore, Granddaddy used a tire iron to beat a white man who
      had assaulted his sister. Fearing for his life, he ran away and,
      later, found himself sitting in a train station with one token in
      his pocket in the wee hours of the morning. Many years later,
      Granddaddy would say that the sound of a train made him feel
      lonely. His last words before he died were to my mother. “Angelena,”
      he said, “we’re on this train alone.”

      In any case, as Granddaddy sat alone in that station, a white
      man came over and asked what he was doing there at that hour
      of the night. For reasons that are not entirely clear, “Old Man
      Wheeler,” as he was known in our family, took my grandfather
      home and raised him with his sons. I remember very well going
      to my grandmother’s house in 1965 to tell her that Granddaddy
      had passed away at the hospital. She wailed and soon said,
      “Somebody call the Wheeler boys.” One came over to the house
      immediately. They were obviously just like family.

      I’ve always been struck by this story because it speaks to the
      complicated history of blacks and whites in America. We came to
      this country as founding populations—Europeans and Africans.
      Our bloodlines have crossed and been intertwined by the ugly,
      sexual exploitation that was very much a part of slavery. Even in
      the depths of segregation, blacks and whites lived very close to
      one another. There are the familiar stories of black nannies who
      were “a part of the family,” raising the wealthy white children for
      whom they cared. But there are also inexplicable stories like that
      of my grandfather and the Wheelers.

      We still have a lot of trouble with the truth of how tangled
      our family histories are. These legacies are painful and remind
      us of America’s birth defect: slavery. I remember all the fuss
      about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings a few years back. Are
      we kidding? I thought. Of course Jefferson had black children. I can also
      remember being asked how I felt when I learned that I apparently
      had two white great-grandfathers, one on each side of the
      family. I just considered it a fact—no feelings were necessary. We
      all have white ancestors, and some whites have black ancestors.
      Once at a Stanford football game, my father and I sat in front
      of a white man who reached out his hand and said, “My name is
      Rice too. And I’m from the South.” The man blanched when my
      father suggested we might be related.

      It is just easier not to talk about all of this or to obscure it
      with the term “African American,” which recalls the immigration
      narrative. There are groups such as Mexican Americans, Korean
      Americans, and German Americans who retain a direct link to
      their immigrant ancestors. But the fact is that only a portion of
      those with black skin are direct descendants of African immigrants,
      as is President Barack Obama, who was born of a white
      American mother and a Kenyan father. There is a second narrative,
      which involves immigrants from the West Indies such as
      Colin Powell’s parents. And what of the descendants of slaves in
      the old Confederacy? I prefer “black” and “white.” These terms
      are starker and remind us that the first Europeans and the first
      Africans came to this country together—the Africans in chains.
       

      Chapter Two

      The Rays and the Rices

      One day Granddaddy Ray, now a coal-mining engineer,
      passed a beautiful young girl drawing water at a well.
      He introduced himself, but when he learned that she was only
      sixteen, he refrained from trying to date her. When she was finally
      old enough, Mattie Lula Parrom and Albert Ray married.
      Albert was industrious and worked three jobs for most of his
      life. He labored in the mines during the week, a profession that
      saddled him with emphysema and heart disease and gave him a
      deep admiration for John L. Lewis and the coal miners union;
      he sheared horses in the evening, a skill that he’d been taught
      by Mr. Wheeler; and on the weekends he built houses. Granddaddy’s
      day began every morning at four o’clock with Grandmother
      cooking a big breakfast of steak or bacon and eggs to
      sustain him through the hard workday ahead.

      The Rays were proud people. They settled in Hooper City,
      Alabama, which in those days was pretty far outside the city limits
      of Birmingham. Even when I was a child, my grandparents’ home
      felt as though it were in the country, not a city. Life was apparently
      pleasant, though there were some tensions between my mother
      and the daughter of the owner of the Italian grocery store, who
      seemed to have traded racial insults on a fairly regular basis.

      Mattie and Albert Ray were landowners who built their
      house with their own hands. The white wood-framed home was
      large for its time, on a corner lot with a big pecan tree in the front
      yard. It had eight large rooms, including a music room where my
      grandmother taught piano. Grandmother loved fine things, and
      the heavy mahogany furniture, always purchased with cash, survives
      in various family members’ houses—as well as my own—to
      this very day.

      Still, Grandmother Ray was frugal. When Granddaddy lost
      his job at the mine, he worried that they might lose the house.
      But my grandmother had saved enormous amounts of money
      in a mattress, allowing them to pay off the bank and to acquire
      more land.

      My aunts and uncle remember their parents’ determination
      to maintain their dignity despite the degrading circumstances of
      Birmingham. The children were constantly reminded, “You are
      a Ray!” This was both an admonition to let nothing hold them
      back and occasionally a rebuke when my grandparents disapproved
      of their behavior. They were never allowed to use a “colored”
      restroom or water fountain. “Wait until you get home,”
      they were told. And my grandparents always made sure that they
      had a car so that no one had to ride in the back of the bus.

      My mother had five siblings. Albert junior, Mattie, and my
      mother were born very close together in the early 1920s. Uncle
      Alto and Aunt Genoa, who went by Gee, made their entrance
      about a decade later. My grandparents were not themselves
      college-educated, but they were determined that their children
      would be. Though they believed in honest hard work, they
      wanted their children to have an easier life than they’d had.

      As it turned out, this took some doing. The eldest child,
      Albert, was difficult to educate. Albert started school at Miles
      College in Fairfield, Alabama, not far from Birmingham. But
      my restless uncle left school and went north to Pennsylvania
      with his young bride and first child to seek his fame and fortune.
      When my grandfather learned that Albert was working
      in the steel mills, he got on the train, brought Albert and his
      young family back to Birmingham, and insisted he return to
      school. My grandfather had had to work in the coal mines, but
      the steel mills were not good enough for his son. Albert did
      eventually finish college and became a quite successful Presbyterian
      minister.

      On the other hand, Mattie and my mother finished Miles in
      the requisite four years. They lived at home and drove to college
      each day. Both were stunningly beautiful. Mattie looked like her
      mother, sharing her rich brown complexion, high cheekbones,
      and long, wavy black hair. My mother looked like her father, fair-skinned
      with the same round face that I have and long, straight
      brownish hair. As little girls they were favored by adults because
      they were so cute. One of my most cherished photographs shows
      five-year-old Mattie and three-year-old Angelena as “calendar
      girls” for the local barbershop.

      In college the “Ray girls,” as they were called, were popular,
      with outgoing Mattie becoming a majorette and my more
      reserved mother breaking out of character by becoming a cheerleader.
      Mattie, who played high school and collegiate tennis and
      basketball, was a real athlete. My mother, however, was not. In
      order to fulfill her physical education requirement, she created
      a scrapbook. Her teacher gave her a B for the beautiful work but
      told her he just couldn’t give her an A when she didn’t even break
      a sweat. This was very much my mother. She was an artist and a
      lady, and she didn’t really believe that women should play sports
      or, heaven forbid, perspire. I can’t remember my mother ever
      picking up a bat or a ball of any kind, and though she later learned
      to enjoy spectator sports with my father and me, she never fully
      came to terms with my tomboy tendencies.

      After college Mattie and Angelena continued to live at home.
      My mother and her sister had many friends, but they were clearly
      each other’s best friends. Life in segregated Birmingham was in
      some ways pretty simple: family, church, work, and a social life
      built around black fraternities and private clubs. Mother and her
      sister became well-regarded teachers at the same high school,
      though their perpetual tardiness led their father to set the house
      clocks far ahead to force them to be on time.

      They’d been taught music by their mother and grandmother
      and on Sundays played organ and piano for Baptist churches.
      Although they were Methodists, the Baptists paid better. They
      had to learn to play gospel and improvise by ear, something that
      those who read music sometimes find hard. I certainly do. But it
      was apparently not so difficult for my mother and Mattie. I asked
      about this once when I played for a Baptist church and found
      myself unable to follow the preacher when he’d “raise a song.”
      “Mother,” I said, “he starts in no known key. How am I supposed
      to find him?” “Just play in C,” she said. “He’ll come right back to
      you.” It was good advice, but I never mastered playing gospel the
      way my mother and Mattie did.

      On the weekend, the girls went to fraternity and social club
      dances in dresses that Mattie, who could sew beautifully, made
      from whatever material they liked. They loved clothes. My
      mother once said that her meager teacher’s salary was already
      owed to fine clothing stores such as Burger-Phillips and Newberry’s
      the minute she got it. They took trips to shop in downtown
      Birmingham, where their really light-skinned acquaintances
      would “pass” as white so that they could go to lunch counters and
      bring hot dogs out to their waiting, darker-skinned friends.
       
      I’ve heard many friends and family say that they never thought
      my mother would marry. She was so close to her family, extremely
      reserved, sharp-tongued, and, despite her beauty, headed
      for spinsterhood. But one day she went to work at Fairfield Industrial
      High, where she’d been teaching for several years. There
      was a lot of buzz about the new athletic director and assistant
      football coach. Tall, dark-skinned, and extremely athletic, he
      was powerfully built with a deep, resonant voice. And he was a
      preacher who happened to be single.

      Mother claimed that John Wesley Rice Jr. first saw her walking
      down the hallway in a red polka-dot dress and red, very high-heeled
      strappy shoes. He was leaning against the wall, filing his
      fingernails and hoping to have a chance to say hello. He claimed
      that it was she who had made the first move, dressing that way to
      catch his attention.

      Daddy had come to Birmingham after finishing Johnson C.
      Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’d started
      school at Stillman College in Alabama, but when World War II
      broke out, Granddaddy decided to send him to Smith, where he
      could attend college and then go on to seminary. For reasons that I
      don’t know, Granddaddy didn’t want his son to fight in the war.
      I don’t think he had any political or philosophical objection to
      the war. Perhaps he was just fearful of losing his only son, whom
      he counted on to follow in his footsteps into religious ministry.
      Daddy wanted to go into the army but acceded to his father’s
      wishes that he continue his work in the seminary. He did do
      some chaplain’s work for soldiers returning from the front, but I
      think he always felt a little guilty for not having fought in World
      War II. He had enormous admiration for those who were in the
      military, particularly his first cousin, Philip, who served in Vietnam
      and retired as a colonel in the air force. They became exceedingly
      close and remained so until Daddy’s death.

      In any case, by the time Daddy arrived at Fairfield High
      School, he had already been pastor of his first church and had
      worked several jobs simultaneously. On the weekends he played
      and coached semiprofessional football in Burlington, North
      Carolina. Sometimes he worked as a waiter to supplement his income,
      and he even tried opening a restaurant, which failed miserably.
      Until the day he died he always tipped generously, saying
      that waiting tables was the hardest work he had ever done.

      My father had grown up in a family dominated by his father,
      John Wesley Rice Sr. My paternal grandfather was born in
      Eutaw (pronounced “UH-tah”), Alabama. There were apparently
      three branches of the Rice family, each emanating from
      a different slave-owning brother in Greene County, Alabama,
      about an hour’s drive from the Mississippi border. Not many
      blacks owned land in those days, so my grandfather’s family
      worked the land of others as sharecroppers. Granddaddy’s father
      was illiterate—and may not have been his biological father — but
      his mother, my great-grandmother Julia Head, was a freed slave
      who’d learned to read. It isn’t clear who educated her, since it
      was illegal to teach slaves to read. But she was apparently a favored
      house slave, and there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that
      Julia had run Union soldiers off the plantation and protected the
      horses during the Civil War. To the day she died, she would sit
      on her porch with a shotgun in her lap and a pipe in her mouth.
      Perhaps she thought she’d have to do it again.

      According to my father, Granddaddy Rice was not a favored
      son because, unlike his siblings, he was very dark-skinned. You
      will notice that I have by now described the skin color of each
      of my relatives. Unfortunately, it mattered. One of the scars of
      slavery was a deep preoccupation with skin color in the black
      community. The lighter your skin, the better-off you were. This
      bias extended to other facial features: “thin and Caucasian” was
      preferred to “thick and Negroid,” just as straight hair was “good”
      compared to kinky hair, which was “bad.” The repercussions were
      significant in my parents’ time, when no self-respecting black
      school would select a dark-skinned homecoming queen. There
      was even rumored to be a “paper bag test” for membership in the
      best clubs—if you were any darker than a paper bag, you needn’t
      bother to apply.

      By the time I came along, skin color and other physical features
      were less important, though not irrelevant. My father loved
      that I had my mother’s long hair, despite the fact that mine, unlike
      hers, was a coarse, thick, and somewhat unruly mop. When
      I finally cut it in college, it was pretty clear that he thought I’d
      given up some sort of social advantage. But by then the “black
      is beautiful” aesthetic and Afro hairstyles had introduced a new
      concept of what was appealing.

      One can imagine, though, what it was like for my very dark-skinned
      grandfather in the first half of the twentieth century. He
      was given the worst land to work and not much encouragement
      from his father. But his mother taught him to read and sent him
      to school. He had big dreams and loved books. So when he was
      about nineteen, he decided to get a college education. He asked
      people, in the parlance of the day, how a “colored” man could go
      to college. They told him about little Stillman College, which
      was about thirty miles away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He saved his
      cotton and paid the school.

      After one year, though, Granddaddy Rice ran out of cotton
      and had no way to pay his tuition. He was told that he would have
      to leave. Thinking quickly, he pointed to some of his fellow students.
      “How are those boys going to college?” he asked. He was
      told that they’d earned a scholarship and that he could have one
      too if he wanted to be a Presbyterian minister. Without missing
      a beat, Granddaddy Rice replied, “Well, that’s exactly what I had
      in mind.” As they would do several times in my family’s history,
      the Presbyterians educated this young black man.

      John Wesley Rice Sr. soon met Theresa Hardnett, a pretty
      half-Creole from Baton Rouge. The Hardnett family produced
      educated girls, including two who were among the first black registered
      nurses to graduate from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee
      Institute. My grandmother, though, left home when she was
      seventeen and married my grandfather shortly thereafter. She set
      out with him on his mission of church building and educational
      evangelism.

      While my mother’s family was landowning and settled,
      Daddy’s family lived the life of an itinerant preacher. As a result,
      my parents held very different views on the importance of land.
      Mother always wanted to own a house and sometimes, a little
      pointedly, reminded Daddy that he’d grown up moving from
      place to place and living in “other people’s houses.” Her family,
      on the other hand, had owned land. Daddy didn’t really care
      and felt a bit tied down by the financial responsibility of home
      ownership. While they did eventually own property and a house,
      their differences in perspective on this matter remained a source
      of some conflict throughout their marriage.

      In any case, Granddaddy Rice worked mostly in Louisiana,
      founding a church and a school next door. Sometimes he
      found it necessary to work in Mississippi and Alabama, leaving
      the family behind for a few months in Louisiana. Granddaddy’s
      churches were successful because he was a powerful speaker. His
      sermons were intellectually sound and biblically based. He made
      it clear that he’d studied theology in seminary and was a fully ordained
      minister. In his sermons, there was none of the “whooping
      and hollering” emotion of the Baptists across town, who had
      no formal training. Granddaddy apparently delivered his sermons
      without notes. I once told my father that I was grateful
      that I’d inherited his exceptional ability to speak off the cuff. He
      told me that he was indeed good but not like Granddaddy. “You
      should have heard your grandfather,” he said. “He spoke in whole
      paragraphs.”

      The Rice schools were even more successful than the
      churches. My grandfather believed that his schools could better
      educate black children than the miserable public schools of
      the day, and he sought funds from any source he could, whether
      it meant contributions from church members, a few cents from
      parents in the community, or fifty dollars from rich white people
      across town. Granddaddy Rice once told Daddy that “white
      guilt” was his best ally in funding his schools. But when a white
      church collected a bunch of old textbooks and “donated” them to
      my grandfather’s school, he politely declined. It was important,
      he explained, that his kids have the most up-to-date reading materials,
      just like the white students.

      John Rice’s educational evangelism sometimes brought him
      into conflict with the Catholic hierarchy in Louisiana, which
      saw his efforts as competing with its own education ministries.
      Granddaddy Rice maintained that the Catholics had put some of
      his schools out of business in several parishes. This led to a kind
      of militant Protestantism in the Rice family. My father, a tolerant
      and educated man, opposed John F. Kennedy’s presidential
      bid less because the Massachusetts senator was a Democrat and
      more because he worried that Kennedy, as a practicing Catholic,
      might need to answer to the Vatican.

      When I went to Baton Rouge for my grandmother’s funeral
      in 1986, I saw one of Granddaddy’s surviving schools in Scotlandville,
      on the outskirts of the city. It had been remodeled,
      but it was still sitting in the same dusty field where it had been
      built. Several former students had come back to pay homage to
      what my grandparents had done for them. “Your granddaddy
      was a giant,” one person said. Another, who was a schoolteacher,
      acknowledged that she never would have gone to college but for
      John Rice Sr. Her story was repeated several times. Granddaddy’s
      educational evangelism compelled him to go door-to-door in
      the poor neighborhoods around him and impress upon parents
      the importance of sending their kids to college. Then he would
      go to colleges—usually Presbyterian schools such as Stillman,
      Johnson C. Smith, and Knoxville College in Tennessee — and
      “make arrangements” for the kids to go there. In turn, he would
      recruit young teachers from the historically black colleges with
      which he had these relationships. He was zealously committed to
      education because he believed that it had transformed him, and
      he was determined to spread its benefits.

      When it came to his own family, he was even more insistent.
      My father and his sister, Theresa, attended schools their father
      had founded. The family had little money and lived in any house
      the congregation could provide. Several times when Daddy was
      a child, Granddaddy decided that his work in a particular Louisiana
      community was done and the family would move on. If
      Daddy and his sister resented the upheaval, there was no trace
      of it in their recounting of their childhood. When it came time
      for high school, Granddaddy placed his kids in Baton Rouge’s
      McKinley High, which in 1916 held the distinction of graduating
      the first class of black students in the state of Louisiana.

      Growing up, my father was a very good athlete but not a great
      student, as he remembered. It was a struggle to get him to study,
      and he didn’t love to read, though he loved history and politics.
      The whole family was taken with and followed closely the famed
      Louisiana governor and U.S. senator Huey Long. Daddy’s uncle
      on his mother’s side, Sylvester, would go down to the courthouse
      and sit in the “colored” section when Huey Long was a trial attorney.
      Family lore contends that Long wouldn’t start a trial until
      Sylvester was seated. Daddy remembered the family gathered
      around the radio listening to Huey Long speak and the absolute
      devastation they felt years later when Long died after being
      shot at the state capitol building. “They turned on every light in
      the capitol that night,” he recalled. “The funeral procession was
      miles long.” I suspect this event loomed larger than life in my father’s
      memory, as is often the case with childhood recollections.
      But the Rices really loved Long, a populist politician whom they
      saw as caring about common people—even black people.

      For the most part, Daddy seems to have enjoyed less serious
      pursuits. He loved to play preacher. One day he and his sister recreated
      a funeral that their father had just conducted. They went
      to the church, set their dolls up in the pews, and laid one doll on
      the altar table to mimic a casket. Theresa was playing the piano,
      and my father had begun to preach when one of the dolls in the
      pews fell with a heavy thud. They ran out as fast as possible, sure
      that they’d somehow awakened the dead.

      Theresa, unlike the young John Rice, was an intellectual and
      a somewhat somber personality from the day she was born. She
      read constantly and seemed to take personally the suffering and
      sorrow around her. My father illustrated this in a story about a
      certain Easter. The seven-or-so-year-old John was thrilled with
      his new suit for the Easter program and the basket of candy that
      the Easter Bunny had brought. But nine-year-old Theresa cried.
      When my grandfather asked what was wrong, Aunt Theresa said
      that she was reflecting on the bad things that had been done to
      Jesus.

      That in a nutshell captured the difference between Daddy
      and his sister. Daddy was an easygoing personality who didn’t
      always take life too seriously. He was a popular kid who would
      become an outgoing adult.

      Theresa was reclusive, brilliant, and determined to follow
      in her father’s intellectual footsteps. She would later go on to
      become one of the first black women to receive a doctorate in
      English literature from the University of Wisconsin. Thus I am
      not even the first PhD in my family.

      Aunt Theresa wrote books on Charles Dickens, including
      one called Dickens and the Seven Deadly Sins. When I was about
      eight years old, we were visiting Aunt Theresa in Baton Rouge,
      where she was teaching at Southern University. When I saw that
      she was reading A Tale of Two Cities, I asked whether she’d ever
      read that book before. “I have read this novel at least twenty-
      five times,” she said. I remember thinking that this was a terribly
      boring way to spend one’s life. For years it soured my thoughts of
      being a professor, since I associated the vocation with the drudgery
      of reading the same book twenty-five times.
       

       
      This extract was made available on the internet by the SCRIBD website.
       
       
       
       
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    • Peter Dow
      Condi is my Mammy (MUSIC VIDEO) I d always hoped to marry within my race writes Condoleezza Rice in her family memoir. Which would seem to leave Condi s
      Message 2 of 2 , Oct 12, 2010
      • 0 Attachment
        Condi is my Mammy (MUSIC VIDEO)
        "I'd always hoped to marry within my race" writes Condoleezza Rice in her family memoir. Which would seem to leave Condi's Scottish suitor, Peter Dow, without a hope, but, unfazed Scotland's finest serenades "in black" his one true love.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9CeyMM6KaQ
         
         


        --- On Sat, 25/9/10, Peter Dow <peterdow@...> wrote:

        From: Peter Dow <peterdow@...>
        Subject: [rice-for-president] "Extraordinary, Ordinary People" by CONDOLEEZZA RICE. Excerpt: Chapters 1 & 2
        To: "Rice for President" <rice-for-president@yahoogroups.com>
        Date: Saturday, 25 September, 2010, 21:44

         
        Extraordinary,
        Ordinary People
        A Memoir of Family
        CONDOLEEZZA
        RICE
         
         
         
        To my parents,
        John and Angelena Rice,
        and my grandparents:
        Mattie and Albert Ray,
        and
        John and Theresa Rice
         
        Contents
        Author’s Note viii
        One Starting Early 1
        Two The Rays and the Rices 7

        Three Married at Last 20
        Four “Johnny, It’s a Girl!” 32
        Five “I Need a Piano!” 40
        Six My Parents Were Teachers 49
        Seven Something in the Water 59
        Eight School Days 70
        Nine Summer Respite 78
        Ten Turning Up the Heat in Birmingham 83
        Eleven 1963 88
        Twelve Integration? 104
        Thirteen Tuscaloosa 110
        Fourteen Denver Again 120
        Fifteen Leaving the South Behind 131
        Sixteen Cancer Intrudes 142
        Seventeen Starting Early (Again) 147
        Eighteen College Years 154
        Nineteen A Change of Direction 159
        Twenty “Rally, Sons (and Daughters) of Notre Dame” 168
        Twenty-One A New Start 173
        Twenty-Two A Lost Year 182
        Twenty-Three Senator Stanford’s Farm 189
        Twenty-Four My Rookie Season 202
        Twenty-Five The Darkest Moment of My Life 215
        Twenty-Six “The Moving Van Is Here” 223
        Twenty-Seven Inside the Pentagon 230
        Twenty-Eight Back to Stanford 239
        Twenty-Nine D.C. Again 244
        Thirty “I Don’t Think This Is What Karl Marx Had in Mind” 254
        Thirty-One Back in California 271
        Thirty-Two Learning Compassion 276
        Thirty-Three Finding a New President for Stanford 282
        Thirty-Four Provost of the University 287
        Thirty-Five Tough Decisions 293
        Thirty-Six The Governor’s Campaign 311
        Thirty-Seven Florida 318
        Thirty-Eight “The Saints Go Marching In” 322
        A Note on Sources 327
        Acknowledgments 330
        Index 334

        Author’s Note
        John and Angelena Rice were extraordinary, ordinary
        people. They were middle-class folks who loved God, family,
        and their country. I don’t think they ever read a book on parenting.
        They were just good at it — not perfect, but really good.
        They loved each other unreservedly and built a world together
        that wove the fibers of our life — faith, family, community, and
        education — into a seamless tapestry of high expectations and
        unconditional love. And somehow they raised their little girl in
        Jim Crow Birmingham to believe that even if she couldn’t have a
        hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she could be President
        of the United States.
         
        As it became known that I was writing a book about my parents,
        I received many letters and emails from people who knew
        my mom and dad, telling me how my parents had touched their
        lives. In conducting this journey into the past I had the pleasure
        of returning to the places my parents lived and talking with their
        friends, associates, and students.
         
        I was also contacted by people who didn’t know my parents
        but recognized in my story their own parents’ love and sacrifice.
        Good parents are a blessing. Mine were determined to give me
        a chance to live a unique and happy life. In that they succeeded,
        and that is why every night I begin my prayers saying, “Lord, I
        can never thank you enough for the parents you gave me.”
         
        Extraordinary,
        Ordinary People
         
        Chapter One
         
        Starting Early

        Chapter One

        Starting Early

        My parents were anxious to give me a head start in
        life—perhaps a little too anxious. My first memory of
        confronting them and in a way declaring my independence was a
        conversation concerning their ill-conceived attempt to send me
        to first grade at the ripe age of three. My mother was teaching
        at Fairfield Industrial High School in Alabama, and the idea was
        to enroll me in the elementary school located on the same campus.
        I don’t know how they talked the principal into going along,
        but sure enough, on the first day of school in September 1958,
        my mother took me by the hand and walked me into Mrs. Jones’
        classroom.

        I was terrified of the other children and of Mrs. Jones, and
        I refused to stay. Each day we would repeat the scene, and each
        day my father would have to pick me up and take me to my
        grandmother’s house, where I would stay until the school day
        ended. Finally I told my mother that I didn’t want to go back
        because the teacher wore the same skirt every morning. I am sure
        this was not literally true. Perhaps I somehow already understood
        that my mother believed in good grooming and appropriate
        attire. Anyway, the logic of my argument aside, Mother and
        Daddy got the point and abandoned their attempt at really early
        childhood education.

        I now think back on that time and laugh. John and Angelena
        were prepared to try just about anything — or to let me try just
        about anything — that could be called an educational opportunity.
        They were convinced that education was a kind of armor shielding
        me against everything — even the deep racism in Birmingham
        and across America.

        They were bred to those views. They were both born in the
        South at the height of segregation and racial prejudice — Mother
        just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1924 and Daddy in
        Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1923. They were teenagers during
        the Great Depression, old enough to remember but too young to
        adopt the overly cautious financial habits of their parents. They
        were of the first generation of middle-class blacks to attend historically
        black colleges — institutions that previously had been for
        the children of the black elite. And like so many of their peers,
        they rigorously controlled their environment to preserve their
        dignity and their pride.

        Objectively, white people had all the power and blacks had
        none. “The White Man,” as my parents called “them,” controlled
        politics and the economy. This depersonalized collective noun
        spoke to the fact that my parents and their friends had few interactions
        with whites that were truly personal. In his wonderful
        book Colored People, Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates
        Jr. recalled that his family and friends in West Virginia addressed
        white people by their professions—for example, “Mr. Policeman”
        or “Mr. Milkman.” Black folks in Birmingham didn’t even have
        that much contact. It was just “The White Man.”

        Certainly, in any confrontation with a white person in Alabama
        you were bound to lose. But my parents believed that you
        could alter that equation through education, hard work, perfectly
        spoken English, and an appreciation for the “finer things”
        in “their” culture. If you were twice as good as they were, “they”
        might not like you but “they” had to respect you. One could
        find space for a fulfilling and productive life. There was nothing
        worse than being a helpless victim of your circumstances. My
        parents were determined to avoid that station in life. Needless to
        say, they were even more determined that I not end up that way.

        My parents were not blue bloods. Yes, there were blue bloods
        who were black. These were the families that had emerged during
        Reconstruction, many of whose patriarchs had been freed
        well before slavery ended. Those families had bloodlines going
        back to black lawyers and doctors of the late nineteenth century;
        some of their ancestral lines even included political figures such
        as Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black United States senator.
        There were pockets of these families in the Northeast and a large
        colony in Chicago. Some had attended Ivy League schools, but
        others, particularly those from the South, sent their children to
        such respected institutions as Meharry Medical College, Fisk,
        Morehouse, Spelman, and the Tuskegee Institute. In some cases
        these families had been college-educated for several generations.

        My mother’s family was not from this caste, though it
        was more patrician than my father’s. Mattie Lula Parrom, my
        maternal grandmother, was the daughter of a high-ranking official,
        perhaps a bishop, in the African Methodist Episcopal
        Church. Though details about her father, my great-grandfather,
        are sketchy, he was able to provide my grandmother with a first-rate
        education for a “colored” girl of that time. She was sent to
        a kind of finishing school called St. Mark’s Academy and was
        taught to play the piano by a European man who had come from
        Vienna. Grandmother had rich brown skin and very high cheekbones,
        exposing American Indian blood that was obvious, if ill-defined.
        She was deeply religious, unfailingly trusting in God,
        and cultured.

        My grandfather Albert Robinson Ray III was one of six siblings,
        extremely fair-skinned and possibly the product of a white
        father and black mother. His sister Nancy had light eyes and
        auburn hair. There was also apparently an Italian branch of the
        family on his mother’s side, memorialized in the names of successive
        generations. There are several Altos; my mother and her
        grandmother were named Angelena; my aunt was named Genoa
        (though, as southerners, we call her “Gen-OH-a”); my cousin is
        Lativia; and I am Condoleezza, all attesting to that part of our
        heritage.

        Granddaddy Ray’s story is a bit difficult to tie down because
        he ran away from home when he was thirteen and did not reconnect
        with his family until he was an adult. According to family
        lore, Granddaddy used a tire iron to beat a white man who
        had assaulted his sister. Fearing for his life, he ran away and,
        later, found himself sitting in a train station with one token in
        his pocket in the wee hours of the morning. Many years later,
        Granddaddy would say that the sound of a train made him feel
        lonely. His last words before he died were to my mother. “Angelena,”
        he said, “we’re on this train alone.”

        In any case, as Granddaddy sat alone in that station, a white
        man came over and asked what he was doing there at that hour
        of the night. For reasons that are not entirely clear, “Old Man
        Wheeler,” as he was known in our family, took my grandfather
        home and raised him with his sons. I remember very well going
        to my grandmother’s house in 1965 to tell her that Granddaddy
        had passed away at the hospital. She wailed and soon said,
        “Somebody call the Wheeler boys.” One came over to the house
        immediately. They were obviously just like family.

        I’ve always been struck by this story because it speaks to the
        complicated history of blacks and whites in America. We came to
        this country as founding populations—Europeans and Africans.
        Our bloodlines have crossed and been intertwined by the ugly,
        sexual exploitation that was very much a part of slavery. Even in
        the depths of segregation, blacks and whites lived very close to
        one another. There are the familiar stories of black nannies who
        were “a part of the family,” raising the wealthy white children for
        whom they cared. But there are also inexplicable stories like that
        of my grandfather and the Wheelers.

        We still have a lot of trouble with the truth of how tangled
        our family histories are. These legacies are painful and remind
        us of America’s birth defect: slavery. I remember all the fuss
        about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings a few years back. Are
        we kidding? I thought. Of course Jefferson had black children. I can also
        remember being asked how I felt when I learned that I apparently
        had two white great-grandfathers, one on each side of the
        family. I just considered it a fact—no feelings were necessary. We
        all have white ancestors, and some whites have black ancestors.
        Once at a Stanford football game, my father and I sat in front
        of a white man who reached out his hand and said, “My name is
        Rice too. And I’m from the South.” The man blanched when my
        father suggested we might be related.

        It is just easier not to talk about all of this or to obscure it
        with the term “African American,” which recalls the immigration
        narrative. There are groups such as Mexican Americans, Korean
        Americans, and German Americans who retain a direct link to
        their immigrant ancestors. But the fact is that only a portion of
        those with black skin are direct descendants of African immigrants,
        as is President Barack Obama, who was born of a white
        American mother and a Kenyan father. There is a second narrative,
        which involves immigrants from the West Indies such as
        Colin Powell’s parents. And what of the descendants of slaves in
        the old Confederacy? I prefer “black” and “white.” These terms
        are starker and remind us that the first Europeans and the first
        Africans came to this country together—the Africans in chains.
         

        Chapter Two

        The Rays and the Rices

        One day Granddaddy Ray, now a coal-mining engineer,
        passed a beautiful young girl drawing water at a well.
        He introduced himself, but when he learned that she was only
        sixteen, he refrained from trying to date her. When she was finally
        old enough, Mattie Lula Parrom and Albert Ray married.
        Albert was industrious and worked three jobs for most of his
        life. He labored in the mines during the week, a profession that
        saddled him with emphysema and heart disease and gave him a
        deep admiration for John L. Lewis and the coal miners union;
        he sheared horses in the evening, a skill that he’d been taught
        by Mr. Wheeler; and on the weekends he built houses. Granddaddy’s
        day began every morning at four o’clock with Grandmother
        cooking a big breakfast of steak or bacon and eggs to
        sustain him through the hard workday ahead.

        The Rays were proud people. They settled in Hooper City,
        Alabama, which in those days was pretty far outside the city limits
        of Birmingham. Even when I was a child, my grandparents’ home
        felt as though it were in the country, not a city. Life was apparently
        pleasant, though there were some tensions between my mother
        and the daughter of the owner of the Italian grocery store, who
        seemed to have traded racial insults on a fairly regular basis.

        Mattie and Albert Ray were landowners who built their
        house with their own hands. The white wood-framed home was
        large for its time, on a corner lot with a big pecan tree in the front
        yard. It had eight large rooms, including a music room where my
        grandmother taught piano. Grandmother loved fine things, and
        the heavy mahogany furniture, always purchased with cash, survives
        in various family members’ houses—as well as my own—to
        this very day.

        Still, Grandmother Ray was frugal. When Granddaddy lost
        his job at the mine, he worried that they might lose the house.
        But my grandmother had saved enormous amounts of money
        in a mattress, allowing them to pay off the bank and to acquire
        more land.

        My aunts and uncle remember their parents’ determination
        to maintain their dignity despite the degrading circumstances of
        Birmingham. The children were constantly reminded, “You are
        a Ray!” This was both an admonition to let nothing hold them
        back and occasionally a rebuke when my grandparents disapproved
        of their behavior. They were never allowed to use a “colored”
        restroom or water fountain. “Wait until you get home,”
        they were told. And my grandparents always made sure that they
        had a car so that no one had to ride in the back of the bus.

        My mother had five siblings. Albert junior, Mattie, and my
        mother were born very close together in the early 1920s. Uncle
        Alto and Aunt Genoa, who went by Gee, made their entrance
        about a decade later. My grandparents were not themselves
        college-educated, but they were determined that their children
        would be. Though they believed in honest hard work, they
        wanted their children to have an easier life than they’d had.

        As it turned out, this took some doing. The eldest child,
        Albert, was difficult to educate. Albert started school at Miles
        College in Fairfield, Alabama, not far from Birmingham. But
        my restless uncle left school and went north to Pennsylvania
        with his young bride and first child to seek his fame and fortune.
        When my grandfather learned that Albert was working
        in the steel mills, he got on the train, brought Albert and his
        young family back to Birmingham, and insisted he return to
        school. My grandfather had had to work in the coal mines, but
        the steel mills were not good enough for his son. Albert did
        eventually finish college and became a quite successful Presbyterian
        minister.

        On the other hand, Mattie and my mother finished Miles in
        the requisite four years. They lived at home and drove to college
        each day. Both were stunningly beautiful. Mattie looked like her
        mother, sharing her rich brown complexion, high cheekbones,
        and long, wavy black hair. My mother looked like her father, fair-skinned
        with the same round face that I have and long, straight
        brownish hair. As little girls they were favored by adults because
        they were so cute. One of my most cherished photographs shows
        five-year-old Mattie and three-year-old Angelena as “calendar
        girls” for the local barbershop.

        In college the “Ray girls,” as they were called, were popular,
        with outgoing Mattie becoming a majorette and my more
        reserved mother breaking out of character by becoming a cheerleader.
        Mattie, who played high school and collegiate tennis and
        basketball, was a real athlete. My mother, however, was not. In
        order to fulfill her physical education requirement, she created
        a scrapbook. Her teacher gave her a B for the beautiful work but
        told her he just couldn’t give her an A when she didn’t even break
        a sweat. This was very much my mother. She was an artist and a
        lady, and she didn’t really believe that women should play sports
        or, heaven forbid, perspire. I can’t remember my mother ever
        picking up a bat or a ball of any kind, and though she later learned
        to enjoy spectator sports with my father and me, she never fully
        came to terms with my tomboy tendencies.

        After college Mattie and Angelena continued to live at home.
        My mother and her sister had many friends, but they were clearly
        each other’s best friends. Life in segregated Birmingham was in
        some ways pretty simple: family, church, work, and a social life
        built around black fraternities and private clubs. Mother and her
        sister became well-regarded teachers at the same high school,
        though their perpetual tardiness led their father to set the house
        clocks far ahead to force them to be on time.

        They’d been taught music by their mother and grandmother
        and on Sundays played organ and piano for Baptist churches.
        Although they were Methodists, the Baptists paid better. They
        had to learn to play gospel and improvise by ear, something that
        those who read music sometimes find hard. I certainly do. But it
        was apparently not so difficult for my mother and Mattie. I asked
        about this once when I played for a Baptist church and found
        myself unable to follow the preacher when he’d “raise a song.”
        “Mother,” I said, “he starts in no known key. How am I supposed
        to find him?” “Just play in C,” she said. “He’ll come right back to
        you.” It was good advice, but I never mastered playing gospel the
        way my mother and Mattie did.

        On the weekend, the girls went to fraternity and social club
        dances in dresses that Mattie, who could sew beautifully, made
        from whatever material they liked. They loved clothes. My
        mother once said that her meager teacher’s salary was already
        owed to fine clothing stores such as Burger-Phillips and Newberry’s
        the minute she got it. They took trips to shop in downtown
        Birmingham, where their really light-skinned acquaintances
        would “pass” as white so that they could go to lunch counters and
        bring hot dogs out to their waiting, darker-skinned friends.
         
        I’ve heard many friends and family say that they never thought
        my mother would marry. She was so close to her family, extremely
        reserved, sharp-tongued, and, despite her beauty, headed
        for spinsterhood. But one day she went to work at Fairfield Industrial
        High, where she’d been teaching for several years. There
        was a lot of buzz about the new athletic director and assistant
        football coach. Tall, dark-skinned, and extremely athletic, he
        was powerfully built with a deep, resonant voice. And he was a
        preacher who happened to be single.

        Mother claimed that John Wesley Rice Jr. first saw her walking
        down the hallway in a red polka-dot dress and red, very high-heeled
        strappy shoes. He was leaning against the wall, filing his
        fingernails and hoping to have a chance to say hello. He claimed
        that it was she who had made the first move, dressing that way to
        catch his attention.

        Daddy had come to Birmingham after finishing Johnson C.
        Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’d started
        school at Stillman College in Alabama, but when World War II
        broke out, Granddaddy decided to send him to Smith, where he
        could attend college and then go on to seminary. For reasons that I
        don’t know, Granddaddy didn’t want his son to fight in the war.
        I don’t think he had any political or philosophical objection to
        the war. Perhaps he was just fearful of losing his only son, whom
        he counted on to follow in his footsteps into religious ministry.
        Daddy wanted to go into the army but acceded to his father’s
        wishes that he continue his work in the seminary. He did do
        some chaplain’s work for soldiers returning from the front, but I
        think he always felt a little guilty for not having fought in World
        War II. He had enormous admiration for those who were in the
        military, particularly his first cousin, Philip, who served in Vietnam
        and retired as a colonel in the air force. They became exceedingly
        close and remained so until Daddy’s death.

        In any case, by the time Daddy arrived at Fairfield High
        School, he had already been pastor of his first church and had
        worked several jobs simultaneously. On the weekends he played
        and coached semiprofessional football in Burlington, North
        Carolina. Sometimes he worked as a waiter to supplement his income,
        and he even tried opening a restaurant, which failed miserably.
        Until the day he died he always tipped generously, saying
        that waiting tables was the hardest work he had ever done.

        My father had grown up in a family dominated by his father,
        John Wesley Rice Sr. My paternal grandfather was born in
        Eutaw (pronounced “UH-tah”), Alabama. There were apparently
        three branches of the Rice family, each emanating from
        a different slave-owning brother in Greene County, Alabama,
        about an hour’s drive from the Mississippi border. Not many
        blacks owned land in those days, so my grandfather’s family
        worked the land of others as sharecroppers. Granddaddy’s father
        was illiterate—and may not have been his biological father — but
        his mother, my great-grandmother Julia Head, was a freed slave
        who’d learned to read. It isn’t clear who educated her, since it
        was illegal to teach slaves to read. But she was apparently a favored
        house slave, and there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that
        Julia had run Union soldiers off the plantation and protected the
        horses during the Civil War. To the day she died, she would sit
        on her porch with a shotgun in her lap and a pipe in her mouth.
        Perhaps she thought she’d have to do it again.

        According to my father, Granddaddy Rice was not a favored
        son because, unlike his siblings, he was very dark-skinned. You
        will notice that I have by now described the skin color of each
        of my relatives. Unfortunately, it mattered. One of the scars of
        slavery was a deep preoccupation with skin color in the black
        community. The lighter your skin, the better-off you were. This
        bias extended to other facial features: “thin and Caucasian” was
        preferred to “thick and Negroid,” just as straight hair was “good”
        compared to kinky hair, which was “bad.” The repercussions were
        significant in my parents’ time, when no self-respecting black
        school would select a dark-skinned homecoming queen. There
        was even rumored to be a “paper bag test” for membership in the
        best clubs—if you were any darker than a paper bag, you needn’t
        bother to apply.

        By the time I came along, skin color and other physical features
        were less important, though not irrelevant. My father loved
        that I had my mother’s long hair, despite the fact that mine, unlike
        hers, was a coarse, thick, and somewhat unruly mop. When
        I finally cut it in college, it was pretty clear that he thought I’d
        given up some sort of social advantage. But by then the “black
        is beautiful” aesthetic and Afro hairstyles had introduced a new
        concept of what was appealing.

        One can imagine, though, what it was like for my very dark-skinned
        grandfather in the first half of the twentieth century. He
        was given the worst land to work and not much encouragement
        from his father. But his mother taught him to read and sent him
        to school. He had big dreams and loved books. So when he was
        about nineteen, he decided to get a college education. He asked
        people, in the parlance of the day, how a “colored” man could go
        to college. They told him about little Stillman College, which
        was about thirty miles away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He saved his
        cotton and paid the school.

        After one year, though, Granddaddy Rice ran out of cotton
        and had no way to pay his tuition. He was told that he would have
        to leave. Thinking quickly, he pointed to some of his fellow students.
        “How are those boys going to college?” he asked. He was
        told that they’d earned a scholarship and that he could have one
        too if he wanted to be a Presbyterian minister. Without missing
        a beat, Granddaddy Rice replied, “Well, that’s exactly what I had
        in mind.” As they would do several times in my family’s history,
        the Presbyterians educated this young black man.

        John Wesley Rice Sr. soon met Theresa Hardnett, a pretty
        half-Creole from Baton Rouge. The Hardnett family produced
        educated girls, including two who were among the first black registered
        nurses to graduate from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee
        Institute. My grandmother, though, left home when she was
        seventeen and married my grandfather shortly thereafter. She set
        out with him on his mission of church building and educational
        evangelism.

        While my mother’s family was landowning and settled,
        Daddy’s family lived the life of an itinerant preacher. As a result,
        my parents held very different views on the importance of land.
        Mother always wanted to own a house and sometimes, a little
        pointedly, reminded Daddy that he’d grown up moving from
        place to place and living in “other people’s houses.” Her family,
        on the other hand, had owned land. Daddy didn’t really care
        and felt a bit tied down by the financial responsibility of home
        ownership. While they did eventually own property and a house,
        their differences in perspective on this matter remained a source
        of some conflict throughout their marriage.

        In any case, Granddaddy Rice worked mostly in Louisiana,
        founding a church and a school next door. Sometimes he
        found it necessary to work in Mississippi and Alabama, leaving
        the family behind for a few months in Louisiana. Granddaddy’s
        churches were successful because he was a powerful speaker. His
        sermons were intellectually sound and biblically based. He made
        it clear that he’d studied theology in seminary and was a fully ordained
        minister. In his sermons, there was none of the “whooping
        and hollering” emotion of the Baptists across town, who had
        no formal training. Granddaddy apparently delivered his sermons
        without notes. I once told my father that I was grateful
        that I’d inherited his exceptional ability to speak off the cuff. He
        told me that he was indeed good but not like Granddaddy. “You
        should have heard your grandfather,” he said. “He spoke in whole
        paragraphs.”

        The Rice schools were even more successful than the
        churches. My grandfather believed that his schools could better
        educate black children than the miserable public schools of
        the day, and he sought funds from any source he could, whether
        it meant contributions from church members, a few cents from
        parents in the community, or fifty dollars from rich white people
        across town. Granddaddy Rice once told Daddy that “white
        guilt” was his best ally in funding his schools. But when a white
        church collected a bunch of old textbooks and “donated” them to
        my grandfather’s school, he politely declined. It was important,
        he explained, that his kids have the most up-to-date reading materials,
        just like the white students.

        John Rice’s educational evangelism sometimes brought him
        into conflict with the Catholic hierarchy in Louisiana, which
        saw his efforts as competing with its own education ministries.
        Granddaddy Rice maintained that the Catholics had put some of
        his schools out of business in several parishes. This led to a kind
        of militant Protestantism in the Rice family. My father, a tolerant
        and educated man, opposed John F. Kennedy’s presidential
        bid less because the Massachusetts senator was a Democrat and
        more because he worried that Kennedy, as a practicing Catholic,
        might need to answer to the Vatican.

        When I went to Baton Rouge for my grandmother’s funeral
        in 1986, I saw one of Granddaddy’s surviving schools in Scotlandville,
        on the outskirts of the city. It had been remodeled,
        but it was still sitting in the same dusty field where it had been
        built. Several former students had come back to pay homage to
        what my grandparents had done for them. “Your granddaddy
        was a giant,” one person said. Another, who was a schoolteacher,
        acknowledged that she never would have gone to college but for
        John Rice Sr. Her story was repeated several times. Granddaddy’s
        educational evangelism compelled him to go door-to-door in
        the poor neighborhoods around him and impress upon parents
        the importance of sending their kids to college. Then he would
        go to colleges—usually Presbyterian schools such as Stillman,
        Johnson C. Smith, and Knoxville College in Tennessee — and
        “make arrangements” for the kids to go there. In turn, he would
        recruit young teachers from the historically black colleges with
        which he had these relationships. He was zealously committed to
        education because he believed that it had transformed him, and
        he was determined to spread its benefits.

        When it came to his own family, he was even more insistent.
        My father and his sister, Theresa, attended schools their father
        had founded. The family had little money and lived in any house
        the congregation could provide. Several times when Daddy was
        a child, Granddaddy decided that his work in a particular Louisiana
        community was done and the family would move on. If
        Daddy and his sister resented the upheaval, there was no trace
        of it in their recounting of their childhood. When it came time
        for high school, Granddaddy placed his kids in Baton Rouge’s
        McKinley High, which in 1916 held the distinction of graduating
        the first class of black students in the state of Louisiana.

        Growing up, my father was a very good athlete but not a great
        student, as he remembered. It was a struggle to get him to study,
        and he didn’t love to read, though he loved history and politics.
        The whole family was taken with and followed closely the famed
        Louisiana governor and U.S. senator Huey Long. Daddy’s uncle
        on his mother’s side, Sylvester, would go down to the courthouse
        and sit in the “colored” section when Huey Long was a trial attorney.
        Family lore contends that Long wouldn’t start a trial until
        Sylvester was seated. Daddy remembered the family gathered
        around the radio listening to Huey Long speak and the absolute
        devastation they felt years later when Long died after being
        shot at the state capitol building. “They turned on every light in
        the capitol that night,” he recalled. “The funeral procession was
        miles long.” I suspect this event loomed larger than life in my father’s
        memory, as is often the case with childhood recollections.
        But the Rices really loved Long, a populist politician whom they
        saw as caring about common people—even black people.

        For the most part, Daddy seems to have enjoyed less serious
        pursuits. He loved to play preacher. One day he and his sister recreated
        a funeral that their father had just conducted. They went
        to the church, set their dolls up in the pews, and laid one doll on
        the altar table to mimic a casket. Theresa was playing the piano,
        and my father had begun to preach when one of the dolls in the
        pews fell with a heavy thud. They ran out as fast as possible, sure
        that they’d somehow awakened the dead.

        Theresa, unlike the young John Rice, was an intellectual and
        a somewhat somber personality from the day she was born. She
        read constantly and seemed to take personally the suffering and
        sorrow around her. My father illustrated this in a story about a
        certain Easter. The seven-or-so-year-old John was thrilled with
        his new suit for the Easter program and the basket of candy that
        the Easter Bunny had brought. But nine-year-old Theresa cried.
        When my grandfather asked what was wrong, Aunt Theresa said
        that she was reflecting on the bad things that had been done to
        Jesus.

        That in a nutshell captured the difference between Daddy
        and his sister. Daddy was an easygoing personality who didn’t
        always take life too seriously. He was a popular kid who would
        become an outgoing adult.

        Theresa was reclusive, brilliant, and determined to follow
        in her father’s intellectual footsteps. She would later go on to
        become one of the first black women to receive a doctorate in
        English literature from the University of Wisconsin. Thus I am
        not even the first PhD in my family.

        Aunt Theresa wrote books on Charles Dickens, including
        one called Dickens and the Seven Deadly Sins. When I was about
        eight years old, we were visiting Aunt Theresa in Baton Rouge,
        where she was teaching at Southern University. When I saw that
        she was reading A Tale of Two Cities, I asked whether she’d ever
        read that book before. “I have read this novel at least twenty-
        five times,” she said. I remember thinking that this was a terribly
        boring way to spend one’s life. For years it soured my thoughts of
        being a professor, since I associated the vocation with the drudgery
        of reading the same book twenty-five times.
         

         
        This extract was made available on the internet by the SCRIBD website.
         
         
         
         
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