By Felicia Farnsworth
Before Condoleezza Rice’s place in the White House as Secretary of State in 2005, her story starts with her great-great-grandfather, Alto. He was a white plantation owner who fell in love with a favored black servant.
Her family began on a small cotton plantation just outside of Union Springs in 1892. They believe Alto to be of Italian descent, but no records of him could be found in the 1890 and 1900 Bullock County census records.
The Italian heritage and ancestry were considered a source of pride in Rice’s family. It was such a profound presence that Rice’s grandfather, Albert Robinson Ray the third, named their children Italian names.
Condoleezza is an Italian name made up by her mother from the Italian musical notation, “con dolcezza,” which means “with sweetness.”
Rice’s mother was musically trained and was inspired by her love of Italian Opera when considering her daughter’s name.
Rice’s grandfather was working the cotton fields at age eleven when a white man assaulted his sister. In retaliation, Albert beat up the white man.
In Union Springs in 1904, it was considered a severe crime for a black youth to assault a white man. So he fled Bullock County.
He was right to leave; Bullock County experienced seven documented lynchings between 1889 and 1921.
He ended up in Birmingham, where he met the Wheelers, a predominantly white family, who owned a coal mine.
He continued to work for the Wheelers and began to create a life and a home for himself.
Rice’s father was married to Mattie Lula Parham. They met at Fairfield High, where they were both teachers. She was a classically trained pianist and taught music.
He was a P.E. Coach that doubled as a Minister on Sundays for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, just like his father before him.
They were married three years later on Valentine’s Day 1954, in the music room of their family home in Hooper City.
Rice had the best examples of leadership and determination for a better life from her ancestor’s hard work and the hard work of her parents That tenacity for higher learning is what, I believe, helped her to get where she is today.