As National Security Advisor, and now Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice is one of the chief architects of American foreign policy, a foreign policy as bold and far reaching as any in recent times. She has become the central figure at the president's side in defending the war in Iraq and the war on terror and she is not just towing the line.
As Katie Couric reports, Condi Rice is a true believer. What 60 Minutes learned, in a series of interviews, is that this smart, tough, deeply religious woman sees the struggle against the enemies of the United States as a fight of good versus evil – a lot like the struggle she experienced as a child growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama.
"I probably have at one level, a better understanding, or perhaps, let me say a more personal understanding of what the dark side of human beings can look like. I remember very well in 1963 when Birmingham was so violent. When it acquired the name "Bomb-ingham," Rice recalls. "That even with my wonderfully protective family, you had to wonder why are they doing this to us? And on the other hand, I have a great faith in the ability of people to triumph over the dark side of human beings."
Condi Rice learned about the dark side when she was just eight years old. She remembers feeling the earth shake when a Baptist church was bombed by racists one Sunday morning just two miles from her home. The victims were all young black girls.
Four girls died in the bombing and the incident had a major effect on Rice.
"Well, we knew those little girls. Denise McNair was my little friend from kindergarten," she recalls. "And she was a playmate and I just couldn't believe that she was dead. And she was not, of course, the only one. Addie Mae Collins was in my uncle's homeroom in school. These were innocent children, this was homegrown terrorism, I know a little bit of what it's like to have somebody try to terrorize a community. These little girls weren't gonna hurt anybody. They didn't have any political power. This was just meant to terrorize the community."
"Do you ever draw parallels between bigoted bombers in Birmingham and suicide bombers in the Middle East?" Couric asks the secretary of state.
"Sure," she replies. "Because the people who commit terror against innocents do it for the same purpose. Some people say well they do it to prove a political point. Then why go after little girls? Or innocent people standing at a bus stop in Britain or in Madrid?"
"And it's the worst kind of inhumanity to just go after innocent people who are just going about their daily lives like those little girls who were just in the bathroom after Sunday school," Rice says.
Condi Rice's father was a Presbyterian minister and guidance counselor; her mother was a science and music teacher. Her parents guided their only child through extraordinarily difficult times in the early 60s in Birmingham, a time, she remembers, when African Americans were treated like second-class citizens, forced to use separate water fountains and separate bathrooms. A time when water hoses were unleashed on civil rights protesters, including children.
Asked to describe what it was like for a young African American girl, Rice says, "Nobody lived in an integrated fashion. Since you couldn't go to a restaurant until 1964, or stay in a hotel, or go to a movie theatre unless you wanted to sit up in the rafters … in the black only section …colored-only section. And my parents were determined to try and shield me from some of those humiliations. So, I can remember very well that if it meant drinking at a black water fountain, it was just, 'We'll just wait 'till we get home.' And that's how a lot of parents dealt with segregation with their kids. I can't tell you how hard parents worked to make sure that you understood that racism and Jim Crow and all of that was not about you, it was about them. It was their problem, not your problem."