Earlier this week Secretary of State Rice commented on the subject of race in her meeting with the Washington Times editorial board. Her comments came in the context of a longer discussion of current issues within her bailiwick. The Times has posted a video excerpt of its meeting with Secretary Rice that unfortunately does not include her comments on race or the question that prompted them.
Secretary Rice talked about the legacy of slavery in the way to which we have become accustomed for the past few generations, but added a personal touch as well. “America doesn’t have an easy time dealing with race,” she told the Times, adding that members of her family have “endured terrible humiliations.”
Secretary Rice grew up in segregated Birmingham, where one of her childhood friends was murdered in the infamous 1963 church bombing. She has the personal authority to talk about this particular aspect of the legacy of slavery, as she did, for example, in a commencement address that she gave while she was serving as National Security Advisor in 2004:
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, before the Civil Rights movement–a place that was once described, with no exaggeration, as the most thoroughly segregated city in the country. I know what it means to hold dreams and aspirations when half your neighbors think you are incapable of, or uninterested in, anything better.
I know what it’s like to live with segregation in an atmosphere of hostility, and contempt, and cold stares, and the ever-present threat of violence, a threat that sometimes erupted into the real thing.
I remember the bombing of that Sunday school at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father’s church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate Denise McNair. The crime was calculated, not random. It was meant to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations, and ensure that old fears would be propelled forward into the next generation.
Rice added that “those fears were not propelled forward. Those terrorists failed.” This is powerful and moving stuff to hear from a woman who has reached the pinnacle of power.
I wrote about Secretary Rice’s comments on her upbringing in “Birmingham’s new legacy.” Insofar as can be determined from the quotes in the Washington Times article, Secretary Rice’s comments this week had a slightly different tenor. Michael Ledeen comments on them in “The secretary of state thinks she’s suffering.”
UPDATE: Reader Duane Oyen has forwarded a link to the transcript of the portion of the interview discussed above. The transcript of the interview excerpt is posted here. Contrary to my tentative observation above, Secretary Rice’s remarks were in keeping with the tenor of her previous statemetns on the subect and are worth reading in their entirety.