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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 15:07 GMT
Condoleezza Rice: Defying all stereotypes
Condoleezza Rice and US President George W Bush
Condoleezza Rice: Mr Bush's right-hand woman
In a new BBC documentary, Gavin Esler charts the rise and rise of US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Condoleezza Rice, US National Security Adviser, is the most powerful woman in the world and the first person George W Bush speaks to every morning after his wife Laura.

Rice at University
Rice named Outstanding Junior Woman at University of Denver
She is the first woman, and the first African-American, to hold the key post of advising the US president on foreign and defence policy, following in the footsteps of great egos like Henry Kissinger.

Ms Rice defies all stereotypes - a black woman from the Deep South who, unlike nine out of 10 African-Americans, has found a home on the political Right and has conquered the largely white, male bastion of international relations.

Condoleezza was named by her mother after the Italian musical term which means "to play with sweetness".


Ms Rice was born in 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama, once the most racially segregated city in the United States.

On 15 September 1963 when Condi, as everyone calls her, was nine-years-old when the Ku-Klux-Klan carried out one of the most notorious atrocities of the civil rights period.

Condi at school aged seven
Condi at school aged seven

They bombed an Alabama church and killed four 10-year-old girls, one a friend of Condi's since kindergarten.

This was a turning point. The Rice family did not take to the streets to demonstrate or riot, as many African-Americans did.

Instead Condi's father, a Presbyterian preacher, helped organise armed street patrols to protect the black community from white racists.

The state, the police and the law had failed decent black people and the Rice family pursued their constitutional right to bear arms. It was a very conservative response in radical times, a lesson which underpins her thinking today.


Condi went on to study international relations and became an assistant professor at Stanford University. It is hardly surprising that a young, clever black woman stood out in the clubbable male world of superpower relations.

Rice skating. Photo dated 1967
Rice skating at 13.
Two of the most powerful men in the US, General Brent Scowcroft and Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, immediately spotted Condi as a high-flyer.

When General Scowcroft became President Bush senior's national security adviser in 1989, Condi found herself in the White House with the toughest brief in foreign policy, handling the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the time of the collapse of communism.

She became close to the Bush family and in last year's election was the natural choice to advise George W Bush on foreign affairs. Privately, the Washington whisper is that Dubya found Condi a good teacher.

President Rice?

The Bush family also prizes loyalty and Condi is known as a team player. In Washington, that city of gargantuan egos, she pulls the strings but rarely claims the glory.

Rice age 5 sitting on her uncle's car.  Photo dated 1959
Rice age 5 sitting on her uncle's car.
At 47, she is helping to direct America's war against terror - her life has been given over to her career. But friends speculate that one day she will seek elected office. Governor Rice? Senator? Or, as one relative suggests, President Rice?

Far-fetched? Perhaps, but no more far-fetched than the idea of a black girl from segregated Alabama now driving the foreign policy of a superpower.

Profile: Condoleezza Rice will be shown on BBC Knowledge, 23 November at 2100GMT and on BBC Two, 5 December at 2320GMT.
See also:

18 Dec 00 | Americas
Condoleezza Rice: Rising star
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