Dishing with Condoleezza Rice

March 20, 2013 | By | Comments (20)
Photo by Jonathan Sprague

Photo by Jonathan Sprague

Hometown: Birmingham

Occupation: Professor at Stanford University/Former U.S. Secretary of State

What’s on her Plate: Her recent induction into Augusta National Golf Club. Also, serving as the honorary chairwoman for the Birmingham Civil Rights Commemoration in September.

How have your Southern roots shaped your life?

Once you’re of the South, you’re always of the South. Even though I left Birmingham and moved to Colorado when I was 12, if people ask me where I am from, I immediately say “the South.” I think it’s because of my Southern roots that I have a strong emphasis on family, faith and, well, food.

What’s your favorite Southern dish?

Fried chicken! My grandmother made great fried chicken and passed her recipe on to my mother, and they both passed it on to me. It’s the exact same recipe that has been shared among all of the women in my family, although we didn’t have a written recipe. I learned by being in the kitchen with them.

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” What was it like to live in Birmingham at a time when the South was still racially segregated?

It was like living in parallel societies. We didn’t go to school, restaurants, or movie theaters with white people. We lived two completely separate lives. I was lucky because I grew up in Titusville, a middle-class neighborhood in Birmingham, so we had our own ballet, piano, and French lessons.

What memory of growing up at that time has stayed with you?

It seems strange now to have a racial charge centered around Santa Claus. But, when I was 5, I remember going to see Santa with my mama and daddy. The Santa Claus was placing the little black kids to the side of him and putting the white kids on his knee. My father noticed this, and I heard him say to my mom: “If he does that to Condi, I am going to pull off his costume and expose him for who he really is.” Santa must have read my father’s body language, and when I got up there he put me right on his knee.

How would you describe the South to someone who has never visited?

Because I lived in Alabama during segregation, the South reminds me of how much people can overcome and how the human spirit is irrepressible. When I go back to Birmingham now, it is such a different city than I grew up in. Then, I couldn’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter. Still, my parents had me absolutely convinced that I could become the President of the United States. Instead I became the Secretary of State.

What’s your very favorite Southern place?

My father’s church, Westminster Presbyterian, in Birmingham. It still stands, and I love to go there. I sit in the pew, and I can almost see my father at the pulpit and my mother at the organ. It is just wonderfully affirming of who they were, what they left me, and the centrality of church growing up.

Your parents were both teachers. What did they teach you?

They would say, “Condi, you’ll have to be twice as good.” That was their answer for overcoming prejudice. I still say it to my students now. Even if you don’t think you’ll face prejudice, being twice as good is a good way to be prepared for life.

And what’s the best advice your mama gave?

I started playing the piano when I was 3. When I was 10 years old, I declared that I wanted to quit. My mom, who was a musician, said, “You’re not good enough or old enough to make that decision.” So she’s the reason I got to play with Yo-Yo Ma and play for the Queen of England.

I know you love football! Where does this deep passion for the sport come from?

I was supposed to be my dad’s All-American linebacker! But I was born female, and I am an only child. He was a semipro football player, a coach, and a high school athletic director. Most of my early memories with my dad are around football. I am a huge fan of the sport. I still root for the Alabama Crimson Tide and, of course, Stanford.

When you heard that you were going to be one of the first two women to be admitted to Augusta National, what went through your mind?

People who are “first” don’t set out to be first; they just don’t see barriers. Whenever those firsts come along in life, you think of all the people who have come before you. When I was asked to be one of the first women to join Augusta National Golf Club, I thought about all of the other women who could have been members. I think it’s good that it’s finally happened. I’m just honored to be in that first class of women at a great Southern institution and one of the most incredible courses to golf in the world.

————————-WEB EXCLUSIVE————————-

Do you have fond memories of your childhood in Birmingham, despite living there during racial segregation?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely! Life was really busy and active. We were always having church pageants and vacation Bible school. And every year my friends and I would have a doll party. We would bring all our dolls and then have a contest for whose doll was dressed the best. We learned to make our own fun.

What brings out your Southernness?

Talking to another Southerner. When I pick up the phone and there’s a fellow Southerner on the other end, my drawl comes out. It’s just natural.

Speaking of Southern drawls, what’s your favorite Southern expression?

Southerners are great at contractions. “Y’all” is used by everybody, but there’s also “Mama an’em.” Which means, “mother and those people,” or “mother and all of those people. ” Only a Southerner would get “Mama an’em!” out of that.

Golf is a passion for you, but you didn’t come to the sport until later in life, correct?

That’s right. Growing up I was a competitive figure skater. Not a very good one, but I worked hard! At about age 18 I realized that skating was not an adult sport and took up tennis instead. In 2005, I went on vacation at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. I took a golf lesson there and loved it. From then on, I was hooked. I was Secretary of State at the time, and I think the fellow golfers in the administration found it funny that I decided to pick it up such a time-intensive sport at a period in my life when I had no time!

As a former Secretary of State you’ve faced more stressful situations than most people will ever know. How do you stay calm in all situations?

Well, I try to stay calm in all situations, but I’m not sure that I always succeed. I don’t think any of us were calm for instance on September 11th. Remaining calm is something I work hard at, I really do. I do tell myself, “You have to stay calm. You have to keep your head about you.” If you’re running around and your hair is on fire, then you’re not going to be very effective with dealing with whatever is in front of you. In that regard, I think being religious helps. In moments like that, I’ll just stop and pray for calm and for resolve.

Finally, what is life like now? Catch us up a little bit—what makes you happy?

Well, I’ve been on faculty at Stanford since I was 25 so I’ve returned to my normal habitat. I teach, I am writing some, and I am consulting for American companies doing business abroad. I’m also, believe it or not, practicing the piano a lot these days because I’m playing benefit concerts around the country for kids’ music programs. And I’m playing golf when I can. It’s not often enough, but I get out at least once a week to play.


  1. Lyn

    WOW! Nice article on Condi. I am from the South and became a first in 1968! I understand her pressures with success. Southerns can be really impetuous, but I have to agree, she was a part of a big war machine, as well as the administration that was in office up to 2007 when the economy collapsed! All of them, Washington, Wallstreet should be tried for their criminal acts! Remember southerns are both Democrat and GOP, has nothing to do with the wonderful magazine Southern Living! Such passion folks, enjoy the magazine.

    May 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm
  2. Duncan

    Now you know why I dislike and cannot tolerate liberals/democrats/socialists/progressives/or whatever name they are currently labeling themselves. Great article about a great lady. No place to throw rocks when you had your own war in Nam to be concerned with.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:01 am
  3. Rebecca

    Why do democrats/liberals always have to put someone down especially a fine upstanding woman as Condi Rice? Is it because she has succeeded on her own wo govt intervention? So what if Jenna bush interviewed her. I happen to be a southern woman from Texas who loves to read a good interview when I see it ,regardless of political sides.

    April 4, 2013 at 9:43 pm
  4. Valeria

    We have always held Condi in the highest regard as a Christian, as a woman and as a beautiful black woman! Keep it up!

    April 3, 2013 at 8:51 pm
  5. Shirley Arnold

    It was wonderful. As a southerner I loved the interview and proud of Dr. Rice. It is a sad day when Democrates can not see a true lady. Look at what we have office now, a soul-mate to Chicago thugs–agree with Sarah.

    March 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm
  6. Sarah McKibben

    How sad for people with a political axe to grind to criticize a magazine article about a fine, intelligent American like Dr. Rice. Wonder who would satisfy their desires as a featured
    interviewee? Possibly one of the many Chicago thugs who are soul-mates of our present administration in Washington.

    March 28, 2013 at 10:33 pm
  7. SBH477

    I must agree with Nancy Yates. Ms. Rice is part of a massive criminal action on our government’s part. I was surprised to see this nonsense in SL, but I’ve been VERY disappointed in the magazine in recent years. NOTHING like the magazine that I have loved for so many years. And YES, I am a Southern Democrate and very proud of it, Mr. Williams!

    March 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm
  8. Johnathan

    Ms. Rice was only one pawn in that whole war thing! People please stop blaming the little people and look to where most decisions come from—-THE CONGRESS!!
    If the Congress had not decided to support that war, there would never have been a war—regardless of what Ms. Rice or anyone else had to say!
    I feel for the average hardworking American smuck (of which I am one), because we much often never know all the facts and details about any war that this country is involved in—heck, sometimes even people in the government do not have all the facts!!
    So, it is extremely easy for us to be arm-chair quarterback and criticize when we may only have 1/100 of all the facts involved!!
    So yes go ahead and kick Ms. Rice in the teeth for something she had no control over what-so-ever!!

    March 26, 2013 at 7:07 am
  9. Mishal

    No-doubt about it, this really is the most financially rewarding Ive ever done. Make money with Google. I’m a full time student. I actually started six months/ago and almost straight away got me at least $80 per hour. I work through this link,,

    March 25, 2013 at 4:19 pm
  10. A. Ware

    “To send a Bush to interview Ms. Rice is like sending the fox to watch the henhouse.”

    ABSOLUTELY Nancy, you nailed it, but given the fact that Southern Living is owned by Time Warner, and the fact that the Saudi royal family has a controlling shareholder interest in Time Warner, you can follow the money on this one….oil money that is. I suspect the GOP is behind this, testing the waters to see if they can run Condi for president next election. Unfortunately for them, there are still enough thinking Americans out there to consider Condi a war criminal.

    March 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm
  11. Nancy Yates

    C Williams – Typical Republican response. Instead of addressing the facts about the Iraq War, point fingers at the commenter. Well done.

    March 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm
  12. C. Williams

    Of Nancy Yates–Southern Living has done an interview of a Southern LADY that is educated and graceful and that, by all rights, could have been negative in her comments about race & segregation in the South. It appears that there’s room for Ms Yates to learn a valuable lesson from this interview rather than choosing to drop her subscription.

    March 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm
  13. emma rex

    Without a doubt this is the nicest work Ive ever had. Make money with Google! On Tuesday I bought a brand new Nissan GT-R: from bringing in $9295 this month. I started this 7-month ago and almost straight away started bringing in minimum $83 per-hr. I use this great link,

    March 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm
  14. Charlie Moore

    Of Nancy Yates—spoken like a true Democrat

    March 23, 2013 at 9:13 pm
  15. Nancy Yates

    I must disagree with the sentiment that Ms. Rice is a role model. She was a driving force in a war that was not founded on truth. She and the administration lied to us. Repeatedly. To send a Bush to interview Ms. Rice is like sending the fox to watch the henhouse. When I read this article in my magazine I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that Southern Living has decided to dive into the political arena with both feet instead of keeping to its core mission of protecting and promoting our common Southern Living. I won’t renew my subscription.

    March 23, 2013 at 8:11 pm
  16. Ruth H Cathey

    I was in college when her father was in th seminary at Johnson C. Smith University. She was the Commencement Speaker in 2010. It is nice to read a beautiful article who father you knew.

    March 22, 2013 at 9:02 pm
  17. Charlie Moore

    I have always admired Condi. She is always so elegant in her speech and her mannerisms. Yet she gives the impression that she is such a down to earth person with grace.

    March 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm
  18. Mildred Carter

    Roast’nears, Southern for roasted corn on the cob. Love your wonderful attitude Condi. From another Southerner who carried her Southern roots with her from Arkansas to Philadelphia, PA to Dallas, TX and back. I loved being from the South, yet I am glad I moved back home. Your article was a delightful reflection of how we are from the South.

    March 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm
  19. Margie May

    A very good interview that shows a loving family upbringing that has helped her in her life. She is a very special person and it shows.

    March 21, 2013 at 1:38 pm
  20. Carolyn

    Condoleezza Rice is such an elegant, wonderful, intelligent woman with so much class and sophistication, yet she comes across as such a down to earth person. She is truly special. I cannot say enough good things about her.

    March 21, 2013 at 1:41 am

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