Excerpts for Condoleezza Rice : A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me


Chapter One

By all accounts, my parents approached the time of my birth with great anticipation. My father was certain that I'd be a boy and had worked out a deal with my mother: if the baby was a girl, she would name her, but a boy would be named John.

Mother started thinking about names for her daughter. She wanted a name that would be unique and musical. Looking to Italian musical terms for inspiration, she at first settled on Andantino. But realizing that it translated as "moving slowly," she decided that she didn't like the implications of that name. Allegro was worse because it translated as "fast," and no mother in 1954 wanted her daughter to be thought of as "fast." Finally she found the musical terms con dolce and con dolcezza, meaning "with sweetness." Deciding that an English speaker would never recognize the hard c, saying "dolci" instead of "dolche," my mother doctored the term. She settled on Condoleezza.

Meanwhile, my father prepared for John's birth. He bought a football and several other pieces of sports equipment. John was going to be an all-American running back or perhaps a linebacker.

My mother thought she felt labor pains on Friday night, November 12, and was rushed to the doctor. Dr. Plump, the black pediatrician who delivered most of the black babies in town, explained that it was probably just anxiety. He decided nonetheless to put Mother in the hospital, where she could rest comfortably.

The public hospitals were completely segregated in Birmingham, with the Negro wards--no private rooms were available--in the basement. There wasn't much effort to separate maternity cases from patients with any other kind of illness, and by all accounts the accommodations were pretty grim. As a result, mothers who could get in preferred to birth their babies at Holy Family, the Catholic hospital that segregated white and Negro patients but at least had something of a maternity floor and private rooms. Mother checked into Holy Family that night.

Nothing happened on Saturday or early Sunday morning. Dr. Plump told my father to go ahead and deliver his sermon at the eleven o'clock church service. "This baby isn't going to be born for quite a while," he said.

He was wrong. When my father came out of the pulpit at noon on November 14, his mother was waiting for him in the church office.

"Johnny, it's a girl!"

Daddy was floored. "A girl?" he asked. "How could it be a girl?"

He rushed to the hospital to see the new baby. Daddy told me that the first time he saw me in the nursery, the other babies were just lying still, but I was trying to raise myself up. Now, I think it's doubtful that an hours-old baby was strong enough to do this. But my father insisted this story was true. In any case, he said that his heart melted at the sight of his baby girl. From that day on he was a "feminist"--there was nothing that his little girl couldn't do, including learning to love football.

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