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Rice celebrates African American History Month

African-Americans were also founders of America, Rice says

Posted: February 21, 2005 Related item: February is African American History Month      

Washington – Condoleezza Rice helped celebrate African-American History Month February 18 by telling an audience at the State Department about the importance of her family’s values -- faith, family and education – and how they helped her to become the first female African-American secretary of state.

Rice spoke to an auditorium filled with members of Congress, African and American diplomats, students from a local elementary school and others drawn from inside and outside the State Department. She wove a story composed of her family’s triumph over adversity and a patriotic message in which black leaders triumphed by appealing to America’s principles and values.

By these successful appeals, she said, black leaders participated in the “second founding” of America, “an America in which the great civil rights leaders and those before them gave us the foundation that we have today that allows for somebody like me to emerge as America’s secretary of state.”

She asked rhetorically, “What has made this African American community prosper and thrive despite the tremendous obstacles since Africans first landed here in America? I would say it’s a story of faith . . . it’s a story of family; the importance of family ties that hold us together.

“When we talk about family, we mean extended family in the African-American experience,” she continued. “So black Americans, African-Americans, have always depended on faith and family and education. In the most hostile times, in the most difficult times, that’s what saw us through. But something else saw us through. And that was a belief in America and its values and its principles – even when America didn’t believe in us.”

She recounted her own experience in bringing that truth to light. Her parents were college-educated, her father a guidance counselor and eventually the administrator at the University of Denver (Colorado) “but he got there and my mother got there because they had parents who cared about education,” she said.

Rice said the first in her family to really care about education was her paternal grandfather. “Faith and family and education came together in Granddaddy Rice, a poor sharecropper’s son in Ewtah, Alabama. One day he decided he wanted to get book learning … so he asked people coming through, in the parlance of the day, how a ‘colored man’ could go to college and they said, ‘If you get some money together and go about 60 miles down the road, there’s Stillman College, an historically black college, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And they educate young colored men.’ So he got his cotton together and he took off for Stillman College.”

After the first year, having paid for his college with cotton, they asked how he was going to pay for his second year, Rice recounted. “He said he didn’t have any more cotton and they said he would have to leave. And he asked (pointing to other students) ‘Well, how are those boys going to college?’ And the college official said, ‘They have what’s called a scholarship. And if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, you could have a scholarship too.’ And my grandfather said ‘That’s exactly what I had in mind.’”

To the audience’s laughter and applause Rice continued “And my family has been Presbyterian and college-educated ever since.

“So black Americans, African-Americans, have always dependedon faith and family and education. In the most hostile times, in the most difficult times, that’s what saw us through. But something else saw us through. And that was a belief in America and its values and its principles – even when America didn’t believe in us.”

Speaking of African-American civil rights leaders, she said black Americans’ belief in America and its faith and its principles “was so strong that [the great black 19th century abolitionist] Frederick Douglass didn’t appeal outside of America’s principles and values, he appealed to America’s principles and values for America to be true to itself. It was such that Martin Luther King didn’t appeal outside of America’s principles and values, he appealed to America to be true to itself in [promoting] progress for black Americans.

“It was true that people like Dr. Dorothy Height, the only woman among the ‘big six’ [social activists] appealed not outside of America’s values but to America’s values to challenge America to be true to itself.” Height, a tiny woman who will be 93 in March, beamed from the stage where she sat with two other speakers.

“That should remind each and every one of us, African American, European American, whatever we are, that the important thing that the Founders left to us, was not a perfect America by any means, but an America that had principles that allowed impatient patriots to appeal to those principles and to tell America to be true to itself,” Rice said.

“And now as we talk about the spread of freedom and liberty to places where it has not yet been known, we need to remember that human beings are by their very nature imperfect and therefore human institutions will be imperfect,” she continued.


Secretary Rice poses with Cleveland Browns Coach Romeo Crennel
In a reference to other nations who have yet to reach the state of opportunity that America has, Rice said: “If we have principles of human dignity and liberty and freedom, those principles will guide impatient patriots to appeal not outside of those principles but to those principles to challenge their leaders and their countries to be true to themselves.

“That’s the story of African Americans in America, who in appealing to America to be true to itself, in challenging America to be what America needed to be, participated in the second founding” of America, an America in which the great civil rights leaders and those before them gave us the foundation that we have today that allows for somebody like me to emerge as America’s secretary of state,” Rice concluded.

Other African-American speakers included civil rights activists Bernard LaFayette Jr., Dorothy Height, and Romeo Crennel, head coach of the Cleveland Browns football team. The master of ceremonies was Ambassador Ruth A. Davis.

Susan Ellis, Washington File Staff Writer

 

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