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Steven J. Niven and John McDermott

secretary of state, national security adviser, educator, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the only child of John Wesley Rice Jr., an educator and minister, and Angelena Ray, a teacher. Her mother, an accomplished pianist, named her after the Italian musical direction con dolcezza, meaning to play “with sweetness.” The Rices viewed the restrictions of Jim Crow Alabama as obstacles for their daughter to overcome. She did so effortlessly, taking early lessons in ballet, French, flute, and piano. Extra tutoring from her father enabled her to skip the first and seventh grades.

Though she enjoyed a comfortable, if by no means wealthy, childhood, Rice was not immune to the harsh realities of Birmingham under Bull Connor, the city's notoriously racist commissioner of public safety. Like everyone else in the city, she attended segregated schools, and one of her classmates was killed in the 1963 ...

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Patricia Washington

Condoleezza Rice skipped first and seventh grades, entered college when she was fifteen, finished her doctorate by the time she was twenty-six, and was immediately tapped for a tenure track position at Stanford University. There, in 1993, she became the youngest person, the first woman, and the first black to be named provost. Rice came to national attention six years later when she left her academic post to become foreign policy adviser for presidential candidate George W. Bush. After Bush won the 2000 election, Rice was appointed national security adviser, the first woman and only the second black named to this position. And in 2005 Rice replaced Colin Powell as secretary of state for George W. Bush’s second presedential term. Given the trajectory of Rice’s career, it is not surprising that the Washington Post characterized her as the first Black woman in just about any job she ...