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Last Updated: Monday, 28 February, 2005, 14:32 GMT
Growing up with Condoleezza Rice
By Emma Beck
Radio reporter, 1Xtra

Condoleezza Rice in Paris
Rice now has the ears of the world whenever she speaks
BBC 1Xtra visits the Alabama hometown of Condoleezza Rice to learn more about the background of the first African-American woman to be appointed US secretary of state.

Today Birmingham, Alabama, with its skyscrapers and downtown deli shops, is like any other American city.

But at the time Condoleezza Rice was growing up, African-American people were seen as second-class citizens.

When we played schools, Condi would always want to be the teacher
Vanessa Honor
childhood friend

There was also so much racial violence in the 50s and 60s by the Ku Klux Klan, Birmingham was nicknamed "Bombingham".

Ms Rice grew up in Titusville, a couple of miles outside Birmingham.

There I met her old friend, Celeste King.

"Condoleezza always worked hard and studied harder than us," she said.

"She had that air about her, you knew she would do something wonderful some day."

'Happy girl'

She was born into an educated family. Her mum was a teacher and her dad was a church pastor.

Black people testing desegregation at an Alabama bus stop in 1961
Alabama found itself at the heart of the 1960s civil rights movement

There were after-school piano and French lessons.

Her father taught his daughter to beat racial prejudice with education.

We get to the Rice family's old house. It is a little wooden bungalow, painted beige, with a wooden front porch.

Looking at the other houses, with their neat lawns, you can see it is a "well-kept" neighbourhood.

Across the road lives another of their old friends, Vanessa Honor.

"When we played schools, Condi would always want to be the teacher. She liked to be in charge," she said.

Vanessa also remembers people criticising the Rice family for being too strict with Condi.

"She was expected to read a book a day, she was always on top of her homework. But was a happy girl, lots of friends."

Murdered friend

Back then, Titusville was a middle-class African-American area, and some say that living there meant being sheltered from the racial violence of the time.

But Celeste remembers when a bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist church, killing four little girls.

She and Condoleezza were at a nearby church

"The floor was shaking and we turned on the television and saw that our schoolfriend Denise McNair was one of the girls killed in the Ku Klux Klan bomb," she said.

"Condoleezza had been friends with Denise since kindergarten."

I visited the 16th Street Baptist church.

Speaking to people here, they say even though they still feel sadness for the tragedy, the racial problems of Birmingham are in the past.

The top job?

I also ask them what they think about Condoleezza Rice.

Action doll of Condoleezza Rice
Rice now has her own action doll in the United States

Amber, 16, who sings in the gospel choir, says she has sold out to the Bush administration.

"People don't think she's up to her new job as US secretary of state, she just does what she does when she's told to do it," she says.

"Condoleezza Rice is not a politician, she's just a smart woman who they wheel out when need be."

At 50, and never married, I asked what next for the one of the most powerful women in the world?

"There's no doubt she has the intellectual acumen to be the next president," says John, 23.

Rachael, 25, believes that the more Ms Rice "speaks in public, the more people like her".

"I think one day the people of America will be willing to accept a female, African-American president," she says.

Listen to the BBC 1Xtra documentary


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