Mary Bush, Freeman Hrabowski, and Condoleezza Rice grew up and were classmates together in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, in the late 1950s and early ’60s. After taking a brief visit with Rice to her childhood home, we gather them again for a second conversation in Birmingham’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, where Rice’s father was pastor during that period. In this second part of our interview, the three lifelong friends further recount what life was like for Blacks in Jim Crow Alabama and the deep bonds that formed in the Black community at the time in order to support one another and to give the children a good education. They discuss how they overcame the structural racism they experienced as children to achieve incredible successes as adults. Lastly, they discuss their views on the recent reckoning with racism in today’s culture and weigh in on the 1619 Project and other social programs.

To view the full transcript of this episode, read below:

Peter Robinson: Condi, we are in the Birmingham neighborhood of Titusville.

Condoleezza Rice: Titusville.

Peter Robinson: Titusville?

Condoleezza Rice: Titusville, yes.

Peter Robinson: I will take corrections from you on that.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes, Titusville.

Peter Robinson: Titusville, Titusville.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Six decades ago, this was the home of the Reverend John Wesley Rice Jr., and his wife Angelina.

Condoleezza Rice: Correct.

Peter Robinson: And their little girl-

Condoleezza Rice: Condoleezza, that's exactly right.

Peter Robinson: So what are the first memories that come back?

Condoleezza Rice: Oh, well, we moved here from the back of the church. We had a little apartment in the back of the church. My dad, of course, when he was minister and was a bachelor, that little apartment was just fine. And then my mother moved in, and then I was born. And so we were there for three years. And then the church decided to build a parsonage for my father. So this little house was built by the church for my father.

Peter Robinson: So this neighborhood was safe?

Condoleezza Rice: Oh, my goodness. It was completely safe.

Peter Robinson: The neighbors knew each other?

Condoleezza Rice: Neighbors knew each other.

Peter Robinson: The moms and dads would look out for each other's kids?

Condoleezza Rice: Absolutely, yes, and pretty much everybody-

Peter Robinson: And it was all Black.

Condoleezza Rice: It was all Black. And pretty much everybody in this neighborhood taught school.

Peter Robinson: So in what way did the surrounding segregated society impinge on your life, or not at all?

Condoleezza Rice: Well, if you were a kid, a young kid, seven, eight, nine years old, you didn't think much about it.

Peter Robinson: You didn't think of it.

Condoleezza Rice: That was, they lived over there. These parents were determined that you were not gonna have limited horizons. And because we went to all-Black schools, all of the sense of achievement and honor society and all of that was in our little community. And nobody said, well, it was racist to give kid the bad grade if they didn't, no, of course not, it was-

Peter Robinson: You weren't acting white by being a good student.

Condoleezza Rice: Oh, my goodness, no. We never would've dreamed of such a thing. There was no such a thing as acting Black. You were just achieving, or you were playing the piano, or you were taking ballet. And all along here, that's what these kids did. It was a nice life. It got to be in '63, more fraught and more tensions, mostly because there were bombings all over Birmingham. And I can remember coming home to the back of this house, the garage is over there, and a bomb went off. And those days, everybody knew it was a bomb. And my father started to turn the car around, we'd been visiting my grandmother, my father started to turn the car around. My mother said, "Where are you going?' He said, "I'm going to the police." And she said, "They probably set it." So there was that period in '63 that was very violent. And my father and his friends would collect themselves up at these, you see, that's the top of a cul-de-sac there, and there's the top of a cul-de-sac back here. And they would sit with their-

Peter Robinson: They'd take the high points.

Condoleezza Rice: They'd take the high points with their guns and protect the neighborhood so that we wouldn't get white night riders through the neighborhoods because there were white night riders who were trying to terrorize neighborhoods like this. I mean, you didn't go after poor neighborhoods, you went through middle class neighborhoods. You terrorize them, maybe they would drop out of this Civil Rights stuff. And so I can remember at night, my mom and I would go to bed, my father would go up and protect the neighborhood.

- [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.] And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. ♪ Freedom ♪ ♪ Freedom ♪ ♪ Freedom ♪

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Mary Bush grew up in Titusville, a Black neighborhood here in Birmingham. She went on to a career in business and finance. Freeman Hrabowski III grew up across the street from Mary Bush. He went on to a career in academia that culminated in three decades as president of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. Dr. Hrabowski retired from UMBC just last year. Condoleezza Rice grew up about six blocks from Mary and Freeman. She went on to become Provost of Stanford University, National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, and Secretary of State. Secretary Rice now serves as director of the Hoover Institution, the public policy institution at Stanford. Mary, Freeman, Condi, welcome once again to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Condi's father's church in the 1960s. An observation and a question. Here's the observation. Mary, Freeman, and Condi grew up in an apartheid country. That's what the old South was, that's what Jim Crow was. You went onto a remarkable career in business and finance. You became one of the nation's leading educators. You became, for goodness' sake, Secretary of State. That's the observation, now, here's the quotation. And this comes from Dr. King's letter from Birmingham jail, composed in this town six decades ago. Quote, "There are two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who have become so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of 'somebodyness' that they've adjusted to segregation. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and comes perilously close to advocating violence." Now, we've already had a conversation about that protest in 1963. What I'd like to do now is talk about the three of you and the striking way in which all of you avoided both of those forces that Dr. King saw. No complacency at this table, and no bitterness at this table either. So, family. I thought to myself as I began to prepare for this conversation that the three of you were heroic figures, and I still think so. But as I got into it, I thought there are heroes behind you.

Mary Bush: Most definitely.

Peter Robinson: 1963, the year that we talked about earlier, the year of that protest, was one century after the Emancipation Proclamation. Your people end the Civil War with nothing. Nothing. They're not allowed to be literate by and large, no property, they were the property. And by a century later, Freeman is going to say because Freeman makes this point, that the three of you were privileged. Well, still by a century later, you grow up in a nice neighborhood with nice homes. You go to schools that are segregated but you get good educations. So the question is, your parents, but even going back beyond your parents, how did that happen? There is a, correct me if I'm wrong about this, but it seems to me, academia pays a lot of attention to slavery. That magnificent book, Time on the Cross, going into exactly what slavery involved, and then we've got the Civil Rights struggle. But it feels to me as though there's a century of hidden Black history. How much of it were you aware of growing up? How much did you, well, tell us your name. Freeman, why are you called Freeman III?

Freeman Hrabowski: Right, right, because-

Peter Robinson: How many generations?

Freeman Hrabowski: Several back. I am the descendant, clearly, of a slave master, as you might expect. The fact is that my grandfather was the first one of that generation born free.

Peter Robinson: So he's the first Freeman, he was the first to take that name?

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes, yes, and his grandfather was the slave master, Hrabowski, if you think about it.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Freeman Hrabowski: All right. And the fact is that is not far at all, because he was born in the early 1870s right after the Emancipation Proclamation. And just go back two generations and you're back to slavery, easily, one generation and you're back to slavery. But we talked about slavery and all of that period all of my life. I think in most families, you'll find people talked about Black history constantly and what happened to us and how people worked so hard to move through that period. And all the things that happened to get the vote, for example, and to get an education, and what it would take to get an education. Constantly, constantly.

Peter Robinson: So, go ahead, Mary.

Mary Bush: Well, I was gonna say that the last point that Freeman is making is very critical. Even coming out of slavery, our ancestors understood the importance, the criticality, the value of education. You know, our ancestors, even though they were slaves, they had the opportunity to be close observers of what happened in the white world, the way their masters lived. And they simply knew, well, this education thing is extremely important. So many of our ancestors, my ancestors and others, came out of slavery knowing that that was one of the first things that they were going to pursue. I remember Alma Powell, who also grew up here in Birmingham, Colin Powell's-

Peter Robinson: Colin Powell's wife?

Mary Bush: General Colin Powell's wife, telling me, I believe it was her great-grandmother who was a kid during slavery. And when they were freed, her father said, "Now you have to teach the other children." Because she had read a few books, she had been-

Peter Robinson: She had achieved the literacy.

Mary Bush: Well, a little

Peter Robinson: Some.

Mary Bush: A little

Peter Robinson: Okay, a little.

Mary Bush: But she had to literally start a school and teach what she knew, and then try to learn more to teach others.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, I think that's very important, so my great-grandmother was born into slavery, and she would've been freed when she was about 13. She was the slave master's daughter. And she had been taught to read. And so when she was freed, and my grandfather on my father's side wanted to learn to read, she taught him to read. And he became very bookish, he was the kid who wanted to learn to read. And there's a story that is just so amazing about him. He was the one who managed to go to Stillman College in Tuscaloosa with his cotton to pay his way through college. He'd asked how a colored man could go to college, and they said, well, there's little Stillman college, so he went there. After the first year, they said, so how are you gonna pay for your second year? He said, well, I'm outta cotton. They said, you're outta luck. He said, but how do those boys go to college? They said, well, they have what's called a scholarship. And if you wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, you could have a scholarship too. And he said, oh yeah, that's exactly what I had in mind. So that's how he became a Presbyterian minister.

Peter Robinson: And that is why we are sitting in a Presbyterian church.

Condoleezza Rice: And that's why we're sitting here in the church that he founded in 1944. They then built this church in 1951, and my father took over when my grandfather moved. But I just wanted to make one other point about that. So in the Great Depression, my grandfather bought nine leather-bound gold-embossed books, the works of Dumas, the works of Shakespeare, the works of Hugo. And my grandmother, who was trying to make ends meet, said, "Take them back, we can't afford them." He said, "But it's only $10 a month," can you imagine? And so he refused to take them back. On the day that I got my PhD, my father gave me the remaining seven of those books. So education, however they started, they knew somehow that this was gonna be the most important thing that they could do. And we have to remember that a lot of the historically Black colleges were founded out of reconstruction and in the early part of the 20th century.

Peter Robinson: I'm just trying to get how close we are in history, how close you were in history. When you were children growing up, were there old people around who remembered people who had been born enslaved? How close-

Condoleezza Rice: Oh yes, oh yes.

Peter Robinson: Oh, that was a common thing?

Condoleezza Rice: It was common that they knew people who had been born in slavery. I didn't know anybody who had actually been born a slave.

Peter Robinson: No, but you're almost touching distance.

Freeman Hrabowski: Oh, you can tell your grandparents were the children of slaves. So both of my grandmothers were the children of slaves, and they both heard Mr. Washington, who had come to their little towns on a horse, Mr. Booker T. Washington.

Peter Robinson: Booker T. Washington.

Freeman Hrabowski: They called him Mr. Washington, the principal of Tuskegee.

Peter Robinson: I see, I see.

Freeman Hrabowski: And he told all the people, send your children to school. And my grandmothers, her and them were inspired by Mr. Washington. And they were determined to send their children, my dad and mother, to college in the late '20s, you see, if you can imagine that history. But let's not forget this. Everybody knew slavery was horrible, horrible, brutal. Let's not, let's not-

Condoleezza Rice: We were all taught that, yes.

Peter Robinson: You were all taught that?

Condoleezza Rice: We were all taught that.

Freeman Hrabowski: We were taught it was awful, we were not considered human. It's so important. And let's put that in perspective today when people try to put rose-colored glasses around it and not teach that history, that's how far we've gone backwards. That's so important to say that, that we must find ways just to teach the truth, the truth, not to make children bitter, but to have the perspective of where we've come from and what we must understand.

Condoleezza Rice: I will say, you mentioned bitterness though.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: Bitterness is a waste of time.

Freeman Hrabowski: That's right, it's not my business.

Condoleezza Rice: It's a waste of energy, it's a waste of time, it's a waste of brain cells, it's a waste of blood pressure. And I actually don't find 19-year-olds very appealing, who are more bitter about slavery than I am.

Freeman Hrabowski: I think we can be stronger, we can be stronger.

Condoleezza Rice: So I find that we've maybe overdone it a little bit because we're not actually teaching what it was.

Freeman Hrabowski: We need to teach the history so we can understand that people could have gone through hell and come out of it stronger in a constructive way to do what it takes to move to the next level.

Mary Bush: But I wanna comment on bitterness also because Condi is putting her finger right on something. So I have many people across the country, whites mostly, who have said, "Well, from the way you grew up in Birmingham, why are you not bitter?" And the way I put it is that bitterness would be a burden on me. It doesn't hurt anybody but me because it takes away-

Peter Robinson: Bull Connor is long gone.

Mary Bush: Yeah, well, it's not just that, but it would take away from, as Condi said, the energy, the energy that I am putting into moving forward and accomplishing things in life.

Peter Robinson: One more question on family. One of the things that slavery did was shatter the Black family.

Condoleezza Rice: Shatter families.

Peter Robinson: Just shattered it. And yet all three of you come from families where you, I'm reading between the lines now and correct me if I'm mistaken, but it was important to your parents that they were married.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Peter Robinson: And that they stayed together for the, so how did this, this is a great act.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: I mean, we're talking about acquiring education, acquiring enough property to buy books and to have a house, but also there is an act of reconstruction of the family. Am I overstating it?

Condoleezza Rice: In some ways, maybe they valued it more because they knew that history. I did have one ancestor, her name was Zena, she was on my father's side, who had five children by different slave owners and somehow managed to keep them together. She was determined that her children would stay together. It pains me now when I look at the destruction of the family unit among so many Black people who for whatever reason, find themselves in circumstances where the family is no longer the unit.

Freeman Hrabowski: And many would say social policies. This is when I talk about voting for people who look at policies that will support people in building families. There are social policies that make it easier not to be married over the last few decades.

Condoleezza Rice: That's right.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, we need to look at social policies that will encourage people to support each other in those ways.

Peter Robinson: School, all three of you talk about school. Two of you were raised, you were raised by an, your dad? No.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, he left teaching because he could make more money.

Peter Robinson: He left teaching to go to the steel mill but he was an educator, all right.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, he was an educator, yeah. And he actually taught men at the lunch break, he would work, he still was an educator, getting them ready to go in the evening to work with the GED in my mother's class.

Peter Robinson: So here's, to me, this is a puzzle. Again, you may not have noticed this, but I'm white so there are a few things that are puzzling to me here that might not be puzzling to you.

Freeman Hrabowski: You know, you protest a lot about being white.

Peter Robinson: Brown versus The Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision calling for the desegregation of schools is 1954.

Freeman Hrabowski: Right.

Peter Robinson: We've been talking earlier about 1963. Now, all of you were in all-Black schools, that's the first point, here's the second point. As far as I can tell listening to you, you throve in school, you had good teachers. And I don't know that all your teachers were good, but you've named figures who all these years later, you remember.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Peter Robinson: You remember a certain guidance counselor called Reverend Rice.

Freeman Hrabowski: Reverend Rice, yes

Peter Robinson: You remember Dr. Bell, the principal.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Peter Robinson: How can it be that nine years after the Supreme Court says desegregate your schools, Alabama simply has not done so? And how can it be that the all-Black schools you attended were good?

Condoleezza Rice: Well, they just ignored it.

Peter Robinson: Alabama just ignored it.

Condoleezza Rice: Alabama just ignored it. And they kept ignoring it. I remember when I moved to Tuscaloosa, my dad was dean of students at Stillman College and my mom was teaching in the now Tuscaloosa Public Schools. And finally something called freedom of choice came along so parents got to choose where their kids went to school. This was a way that if some Black kid wanted to go to a white school, okay. But white parents won't have send their children to the-

Peter Robinson: Oh, I see, all right.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes. But the funny thing was that it finally came down to they sent one teacher to the white school, that was supposed to be my mother, and one white teacher to the Black school. But my mother at the last minute didn't go and some other teacher did. But we got this poor woman. She was the only white teacher in the school. She was clearly not the class of the best teacher.

Peter Robinson: They didn't send you their best.

Condoleezza Rice: No, and all the kids knew it. And this poor woman, they gave her such a hard time because she actually just wasn't very smart. So all that I'm saying is Alabama did everything possible to get around Brown versus The Board of Education, and for a while succeeded in doing it.

Peter Robinson: Well, you mentioned something when, this was earlier today, actually, that had never crossed my mind, that your teachers were strict because at least in part, nobody was ever gonna accuse them of racism.

Condoleezza Rice: No, no, quite the opposite.

Peter Robinson: They were Black and you were Black, and those students were gonna sit up and behave and do their reading and do their homework, is that correct?

Condoleezza Rice: That's right.

Peter Robinson: Absolutely.

Condoleezza Rice: And in fact, I hear the voice of a certain president for whom I worked about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Peter Robinson: Yes, yes, yes.

Condoleezza Rice: And there's actually nothing worse than when you have a teacher, maybe a white teacher, that looks at a Black kid and says, "Well, I know that the circumstances are difficult, and so," that student really can't succeed. Soft bigotry of low expectations, we didn't have to worry about that.

Mary Bush: No, we didn't, and now low expectations, I mean, it's like it's magnified because you have kids that are finishing elementary school and halfway through high school and they don't know how to count. Someone that I know who happens to be from South America was asking her granddaughter very recently, who's in high school, if you give a clerk a $100 and you're paying 64.99 for something, how much money are you supposed to get back? And the granddaughter didn't know. So teachers, schools, the school systems are allowing people to pass when they're not eligible to, really.

Peter Robinson: So the expectation at home was high. You did your homework, your parents set that expectation.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Peter Robinson: The expectation in the neighborhood, all the kids were expected-

Mary Bush: Was high.

Peter Robinson: And the expectation, I mean, there was just no-

Condoleezza Rice: No.

Peter Robinson: It wouldn't cross your mind to slack.

Mary Bush: No.

Peter Robinson: And were you a star because you turned out to be a brainiac at a very early-

Freeman Hrabowski: I was very fortunate to have well-educated parents and I was a precocious kid.

Peter Robinson: But what I mean is-

Freeman Hrabowski: And these kids, and these were-

Peter Robinson: Teachers spotted you-

Freeman Hrabowski: Let me just say this, and we were all in the honors classes, and so I'm just gonna say it again, these two were geniuses, all right? So the top kids did really well, really well.

Peter Robinson: Because teachers picked them out-

Freeman Hrabowski: No, no, we had some great teachers, we had some great teachers.

Mary Bush: We had great teachers.

Freeman Hrabowski: We had great teachers.

Peter Robinson: They recognized the talent.

Freeman Hrabowski: We had some good teachers.

Peter Robinson: All right.

Freeman Hrabowski: We really had some good teachers. And I did really well, and my parents were giving me extra work so I was moving fast and all of that. But I'm gonna say something about American education. If you look at the most recent international tests, in math, we are far below most industrialized nations right now. It just came out in the last week or two. Look at the exam results. We are, American kids of all races are far below. I think it's Singapore that's five grades ahead of America.

Peter Robinson: Five grades ahead?

Mary Bush: That's a travesty for the country.

Freeman Hrabowski: Five grades. So it's not just Birmingham. I'm saying today, Singapore scores are five grades ahead. Now we think we are all that, we are that good. As a mathematician, I'm saying we are well below, let's start there.

Peter Robinson: I'll come back to that.

Freeman Hrabowski: All right, so what I'm saying is that, and what I'm saying to you is that those of us who were really hardworking and fortunate enough to be in homes where parents reinforced the right things, did well, we did well, yeah.

Peter Robinson: Now I want to come to another element of your lives. It's clear-

Condoleezza Rice: Or where you've had a teacher who cared. Because there were a lot of kids in our orbit who did very, very well whose parents were not educated.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, yeah, and were not but they had the right attitude but the parents supported them.

Condoleezza Rice: That's right.

Freeman Hrabowski:You know what I mean? And then you had little kids and the parents supported them while the kid was reading under the sheet with the switch.

Condoleezza Rice: Burning down the house.

Freeman Hrabowski: Church.

Peter Robinson: Let me quote once again, letter from Birmingham jail.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Peter Robinson: Actually, I'm not gonna quote, I just made notes on this as I was reading it myself. Dr. King cites Jesus, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Paul Tillich, a then contemporary-

Condoleezza Rice: Sure.

Peter Robinson: It is a document steeped in the Bible.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Peter Robinson: And steeped in explicitly Christian morality.

Freeman Hrabowski: Right.

Peter Robinson: He said, "Even as St. Paul felt compelled to go preach the gospel, I feel compelled to go speak of freedom." I mean, it is just drenched in, and what's amazing to me at this remove of all these years is that he was writing it as a public document, he wanted it to be read. And he felt his audience would get these references, that he was writing for people who were as steeped as he was. So I want to ask you, did you read the Bible at home? What is the role of the church? I know that church played a big part in your lives, but was that also part of your, to what extent was it social? To what extent were you getting a religious and moral education, you're reading the Bible? To what extent, honestly, did you really believe it? Did you develop a faith that has stayed with you

Mary Bush: I believed it all. And the faith has stayed with me all of my life. And it has taken me through some very terrible, tough, challenging times when I felt my life was almost being threatened in many ways. Not a physical way, but it was threatened, my life and everything that I had built, so my faith was very important. Church was a huge part of our lives. We've talked about Reverend Rice and the youth fellowship group here. So he did that partly so that the kids in the neighborhood would have a social outlet. And our mothers, some of our mothers chaperoned, my mother did as well at my church, Sixth Avenue, just a few blocks-

Peter Robinson: That was your church also?

Mary Bush: Right. We also had the youth fellowship group. I was a member of the choir, first the children's choir and then youth choir. So we were at church many days a week. Reverend Porter, Freeman's and my minister, whenever we got our report cards, he wanted us to stop by his office that Sunday morning and show him the report cards. And then what he would do is in the church service, the main 11:00 AM service and if there was a 9:00, he would say, "Well, some of our students got all A's. So Mary Kate Bush, stand up, Freeman Hrabowski, stand up."

Freeman Hrabowski: And there was three of us.

Mary Bush: "Cheryl McCarthy, stand up."

Freeman Hrabowski: There was three of us.

Mary Bush: So we got that-

Freeman Hrabowski: And then you'd get a standing ovation.

Peter Robinson: Really?

Mary Bush: Yeah, exactly.

Peter Robinson: The whole Congregation loved it.

Freeman Hrabowski: Standing ovation.

Mary Bush: Exactly, exactly.

Freeman Hrabowski: And you know, in addition to the finance thing, she was number two at IMF, big deal, big deal.

Mary Bush: Yes.

Freeman Hrabowski: She was number two at the International Monetary Fund. She went on to do that.

Mary Bush: But, but, but, but, but, so what I'm saying is that even the church reinforced education.

Freeman Hrabowski: Oh, yeah.

Mary Bush: But it was also about God and it was about spirituality and it was about doing the right and the moral thing.

Freeman Hrabowski: And let me say about Reverend Rice, you know what they would do that was so broad? It was that it wasn't the kind of traditional way of saying that Christianity was the only way, they actually talked about other types of religions.

Condoleezza Rice: My father actually befriended a rabbi. And he said to the rabbi, "Well, you don't use your synagogue on Sundays so how about I bring my kids over so they can learn something?" And so-

Freeman Hrabowski: Different paths.

Condoleezza Rice: He did, he believed in that. But I grew up very much steeped in Christianity, a total believer. But my dad was a theologian, he had a Master's degree in Divinity. And so he allowed me to question, we had debates. when I was four, we had our first debate because he gave his sermon right here and I came home and I said, "Daddy, you mispronounced that man's name the whole time. His name is Job." And my father didn't shut me down. He just said, "No, no, it's Job," and over time, we would get more into kind of the meat of Christianity. But yes, I was a believer and still am.

Mary Bush: But they also took us on field trips.

Freeman Hrabowski: We did.

Condoleezza Rice: Oh yes, field trips.

Mary Bush: To see Universities.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Mary Bush: To see Reverend King, the father's church in Atlanta. To climb Stone Mountain.

Freeman Hrabowski: The thing is, where white people were too though that Blacks were not accustomed to going to, and to get us accustomed to feeling we were supposed to be there.

Condoleezza Rice: Supposed to be there.

Freeman Hrabowski: And how to-

Condoleezza Rice: Especially colleges.

Freeman Hrabowski: Oh, yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: Especially colleges.

Peter Robinson: Oh, I see.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, yeah. But he taught me to be comfortable debating with him. He was an intellectual.

Peter Robinson: We're talking about Dr. Rice.

Freeman Hrabowski: Reverend Rice, oh yeah.

Peter Robinson: Reverend Rice.

Freeman Hrabowski: And he enjoyed my disagreeing with him. He would get that smile that she has.

Mary Bush: Yes.

Freeman Hrabowski: He would get that smile that he has. Oh yeah. And he loved it when I could make a good point. And he would, yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, he really encouraged it, he really did, yeah.

Peter Robinson: I began this by saying one of the dangerous forces Dr. King identified was bitterness.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, yeah.

Peter Robinson: Did the Christian ideal of forgiveness help deal with the bitterness? Or did it just not-

Condoleezza Rice: I just don't remember bitterness.

Peter Robinson: You just don't remember that, all right.

Condoleezza Rice: No, I was younger.

Peter Robinson: You don't remember the existence of bitterness.

Condoleezza Rice: I was younger, I don't remember feeling bitter.

Mary Bush: I don't either.

Condoleezza Rice: I do remember very well feeling sadness or sorrow.

Mary Bush: Yes, yes, yes.

Condoleezza Rice: But not bitterness.

Mary Bush: Not bitterness.

Freeman Hrabowski: You were younger.

Condoleezza Rice: I was younger, I was younger.

Freeman Hrabowski: No, no, no, I have a story. I have a story that I dealt with both with him and with my pastor and my mother, Bull Connor spat on me, I've told that story, when I was-

Peter Robinson: During the protest.

Freeman Hrabowski: During the protest, yeah. He said, "What do you want, little Negro?" And I said, "We want to kneel and pray for our freedom." And he spat on me and threw me into the police wagon. I remember that. And I talked with different people about it 'cause I was very angry, he treated me like I was dirt. And I remember talking to, and Reverend Rice talked to me about that and so did Dr. Bell. And their point was, you gotta let that go in different ways. I finally let it go when my mother called me when he died. And she was-

Peter Robinson: When bull when Bull Connor died?

Freeman Hrabowski: When bull when Bull Connor died, she called me and she was crying. And I said, "Why would you cry for that man?" And she said, "Because he was somebody's child."

Condoleezza Rice: Mm, wow.

Freeman Hrabowski: And she said, "His mother never taught him how to love and I'm so sorry." And before I knew it, I was crying. I said, "Mom, why you do me like that?" And all of a sudden, all that hatred just left, all that feeling just left, and it was such a relief. I thought about it, I thought about that. And, that was that, yeah.

Peter Robinson: All right, so the United States, the United States of America, the country. 1963, students march, Bull Connor treats them badly, you've just told us one story. What kind of a country treats people that way? And we have now The 1619 Project in the New York Times and prominent authors saying that the country was corrupt from the beginning, it's always been fundamentally racist, that this country is fundamentally, basically inherently flawed. That's in the air today. What were you taught, how were you taught to view this country?

Mary Bush: To love it.

Peter Robinson: You were?

Mary Bush: Absolutely.

Peter Robinson: Even though it had enslaved your ancestors, even though you were forced to live in a segregated neighborhood?

Mary Bush: Yes. But somehow we knew. Look, there are forces of evil and there are forces of good. And Freeman and I were talking about this earlier today, love conquers all, love conquers all. The Star-Spangled Banner, America The Beautiful, these are songs that are still near and dear to me. I love this country, I always loved this country. That doesn't mean that I didn't know that things had to change in order for me to get where I wanted to be. So I just never bore any ill will towards my country.

Condoleezza Rice: So I represented this country.

Mary Bush: Yes.

Condoleezza Rice: And every time I got off a plane that said the United States of America, I felt enormous pride.

Mary Bush: Absolutely.

Condoleezza Rice: And I felt honored. Did it mean that this country was by any means perfect? No. But I got to see every other human experiment called a country pretty much in every part of the world, pretty much all of them. There's none that's done it as well.

Mary Bush: That's right.

Condoleezza Rice: And that's what we forget. I remember when I met the president of Brazil, Lula. And he somehow came to like me, and we were talking, and he said, "We have a race problem in Brazil." And if you remember, Brazil had always said it didn't have a race problem. Of course, the field hands were all African and the hotel staff was all mulatto and the government was all Portuguese, but they didn't have a race problem. And he said, "How did you do it? Tell me about affirmative action. Tell me about what you did." This is all through a translator, he didn't speak English. And when he appointed the first Afro-Brazilian minister in 2007, he had his foreign minister, Amarin, call me and say, "The president would like you to come and stand with him and talk about racial justice in Salvador, Bahia, which is the Afro-Brazilian homeland. And I went and I saw this church that had been built over 100 years because the slaves who built it had to do it in their free time. And I saw these people in the streets and I thought, oh, we did, not very well, but boy, when you look at what everybody else did. And that the United States of America would be able to deliver to the descendants of slaves rights through the constitution that once called our ancestors 3/5 of a man, that's an extraordinary story. Thomas Jefferson didn't think that Blacks and whites would ever be able to live together, he thought it would be impossible. We did. And so remember that human institutions are not perfect, and this one is not perfect, but I've seen a lot worse.

Freeman Hrabowski: So there are two or three things I want to say. First of all, people have a way of talking about the Black community or they talk about the American people, and there's no such thing. We all have different thoughts, different ways of thinking about things. I do, too, believe in my country, I do go around the world as I talk about STEM and America, right? And I do believe in this country. At the same time, I'm proud of the woman who did the work for The 1619 Project. Now sometimes some of the language she may use, I may not use.

Condoleezza Rice: How about the lack of historical accuracy?

Freeman Hrabowski: And we can talk about that, but I'm very proud of her. And we can, these three are, family can disagree, all right?

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, mm-hmm.

Freeman Hrabowski: We can disagree with things. But this is what I would say.

Peter Robinson: The three of you, you get immunity from each other after you've been friends for half a century.

Freeman Hrabowski: Well, we love each other, we love each other. We can disagree on things but-

Condoleezza Rice: We're family, we're family.

Freeman Hrabowski: But let me just say this though. But when one says that there are flaws in our country, well, in any country there are flaws, of course there are, because human beings are flawed. Yeah, and of course there's some pain we feel because of how we have been treated. Yes, that is the truth. But at the same time, we have to look at where we go from here and what we can do now. And we have to think about, what's next? What do we do now? And we have to think about how we talk about our history. And the challenge we face is that people end up using language to not hear each other somehow on both sides. I'm interested in understanding how we hear the different perspectives so we move to the next level. That's the question for me.

Peter Robinson: So let me ask you about the next level. I'm gonna give you a few statistics here and they're all distressing. All three of you grew up in stable homes. The out of wedlock birth rate among African Americans is now 70%. The proportion of African Americans who grow to the age of 18 in a household with two married parents is under 40%. All three of you grew up in a safe neighborhood. I won't even go into the statistics. All you have to do is think about the shootings that took place last month alone in Black neighborhoods in Chicago, just to name one place. You attended good schools. This is an amazing thing, segregated schools, but they were good schools. Louisiana, I couldn't find figures for Alabama, but in Louisiana this year, Black students were five times more likely than white students to attend public schools that scored a D or an F on the state's school performance ranking metrics. Church, you just talked about church, it was central to your lives. According to a 2021 poll, church attendance among Black millennials has fallen to 50%. On and on this goes. And by the way, white kids tend to attend better schools, but church attendance is way down among white kids. And I'm very struck that it was 1965 when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his report on the disintegration of the urban Black family, and he was worried about an out of wedlock birth rate of 25%, among whites in this country, it's over 30%. Now, we're not gonna solve these problems at a table, at this table, but I'm just so struck that what you had, you've called the three of you privileged. And you know what? I think you were.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yeah, because I would really like to know with you're setting up those, the statistics for poor white families.

Peter Robinson: They'd be bad.

Freeman Hrabowski: It'd be really-

Condoleezza Rice: Yes.

Peter Robinson: They'd be bad.

Freeman Hrabowski: Because, and it goes back to structural issues in our society.

Peter Robinson: So the question, how do you offer, how do you do it? How do you offer what you had?

Freeman Hrabowski: We need to look at this widening gap between those who have and those who don't, Peter. The fact is that the middle class is shrinking in our society. So many Nobel laureates from different perspectives will tell you that the middle class has shrunk increasingly in decades. And unfortunately, unfortunately, whether you're talking about Blacks or whites, you've got so many Blacks and whites who are in that bottom group. And what you see when you look at the statistics of the children who cannot read, Black and white poor, and who are not ones in families, it's such a challenge.

Peter Robinson: I guess what I, I'll tell you the way it seems to me and then you know more about this than I do. But it seems to me that the answers aren't complicated. We know family, decent schools, church attendance, but it's so hard to put together, that's what I mean.

Condoleezza Rice: It's hard now, and we are at a different place. But the interesting thing is, to Freeman's point, race is not the only factor here.

Peter Robinson: That's right.

Condoleezza Rice: In fact, maybe race isn't the primary factor.

Peter Robinson: That's something, that's an-

Condoleezza Rice: Race will exacerbate. So if you are poor and Black, it's a really bad witch's brew. And those neighborhoods with crime and the like are likely to be poor and Black. But we go back to something we've all talked about, education, education, education. The biggest problem that I see is that poor kids, rural poor kids as well as urban poor kids, are trapped in really bad schools. And how can we be a country that lets that happen? Now, I happen to believe that one of the answers is school choice. I want parents to have choices. Now I've heard, well, a choice system will destroy the public schools. We have a choice system. If you are of means, you will move to a district where the schools are good and the houses are expensive. If you're really of means, you'll send your kid to a private school. So who doesn't have a choice? Poor parents.

Peter Robinson: Poor people.

Mary Bush: Yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: And so I wanna give those poor parents, I'm all for, I'm a believer in public education, I wanna fix the public schools, but I don't want to sacrifice three more generations of poor kids while we're doing it.

Freeman Hrabowski: And see, I want to build those public schools. I wanna make them much stronger. But the word we haven't used today that I wanna bring on the table is racism. Let me just put it there. The National Academies did a study looking at this issue of racism in our society, and they say it's as strong as ever. Let me just give you one area.

Condoleezza Rice: Really?

Freeman Hrabowski: Which group would, they did, they did a study.

Condoleezza Rice: I'd love to see those studies and I'm a social scientist, I'd like to see studies.

Freeman Hrabowski: And I'm saying these white, let me tell you this, let me just say this. What group do you think in America right now has had a decline, the greatest decline in people in higher education demographically right now?

Peter Robinson: The greatest decline-

Freeman Hrabowski: Decline in participation in higher education right now. Which group in American higher education has had the largest decline in participating in higher education?

Peter Robinson: White males? White males would be my guess.

Freeman Hrabowski: White males, okay.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, white males.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, white males, all right. And I start with that as I talk about issues of diversity. And why do I say that? The white males are down, okay. Now, Black males and Latino males are down too, but what happens to the white males? The white males are seen to be going towards extremist groups.

Peter Robinson: Yeah.

Condoleezza Rice: Right?

Freeman Hrabowski: What the study showed was that the Black and Latino males, though, end up moving to prison. And the number one reason is they end up, because of racism, for a lot of reasons, they don't have lawyers and judges for the same crimes put them in prison.

Condoleezza Rice: Well, they end up, look, we do have-

Freeman Hrabowski: Disproportionate numbers.

Condoleezza Rice: Disproportionate impacts, disproportionate impacts. And some of that is structural. You look at healthcare, for instance, and health outcomes. But I'm always very careful about the racism, all right?

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, okay.

Condoleezza Rice: And the reason I said I wanna see that study-

Freeman Hrabowski: Would you like the word discrimination?

Condoleezza Rice: No, no, I prefer the word discrimination.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, except they're Black.

Condoleezza Rice: No, because I'd like to know the circumstances in which they find themselves. Because if you're really gonna do this, you gotta have a really good definition of what constitutes racism.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, go look at the National Academy study.

Condoleezza Rice: No, no, no, no. Well, the National Academy has its problems, but that's another matter.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, okay.

Condoleezza Rice: But, I am an academic like you, all right? And I don't always believe everything that I read from the National Academy.

Freeman Hrabowski: All right, all right.

Peter Robinson: Shall we just go out for a drink and we'll come back?

Freeman Hrabowski: I love it.

Peter Robinson: We'll come back.

Freeman Hrabowski: See this is what's good.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah.

Freeman Hrabowski: But this is good though, this is good.

Condoleezza Rice: Yes, right.

Freeman Hrabowski: Because you see Black people, even with PhDs and academics, can disagree.

Condoleezza Rice: Can disagree.

Freeman Hrabowski: When people think all Black people think alike, right?

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah. But I just wanna say one final thing about this. I always think that we need a better definition of what constitutes racism as opposed to what constitutes a disparate impact of race.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay.

Condoleezza Rice: All right?

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay, we can go there.

Condoleezza Rice: Because racism would assume that that judge looks at that person says, "You're Black, I'm sending you to jail," right? I wanna know if that's the case. I wanna know if it's kind of the neighborhood you live in and so you encounter the police more than the white guy who-

Freeman Hrabowski: But you would agree it is structural discrimination, at least.

Condoleezza Rice: It's structural impact of race that I would like to, and that's something we should understand more and understand better. Another one is, we know that in clinical trials, for instance, Blacks are underrepresented. And so you get disparate impacts on health.

Freeman Hrabowski: Health disparities

Condoleezza Rice: Health disparities. So this is a very complex web. But when we just say it's racism, we don't go to the second, third, fourth order question about what's happening.

Freeman Hrabowski: What happens though-

Mary Bush: May I interject?

Condoleezza Rice: Let Mary say something, let Mary say something.

Mary Bush: So I think all of this is very important. The school choice, the fixing the public schools, it's all the, whether it's racism, discrimination, or whatever. But what I see is that our country isn't valuing education, period, like it should be. Because if we've got schools, public schools, or schools in poor neighborhoods that are not performing, that says for some reason we are not valuing education. And what we're also not valuing and not understanding is that there is talent everywhere. And you want to develop that talent, you want to nurture it. You wanna nurture it in inner-city Washington and inner-city Birmingham, as much as you wanna value it in Chevy Chase, Mountain Brook and Owings Mills and out at Stanford. That is part of the problem. We have discounted how important education is. What the fixes are? Yeah, there's a lot of debate and there's lots of things that can be done, but I think that's the crux of it.

Freeman Hrabowski: There's one question, one question. But you see, when you ask the question, which people ask, whatever the term we use, whether it's structural discrimination, structural challenges, right? When the question is asked, as you ask it, as many do, it seems like it is inherently a Black people's problem rather than a problem involving people without resources, whether they're white or Black. When the fact is disproportionately large numbers of people of color and poor people are having these same problems. When you think about those in jail-

Condoleezza Rice: Well, poor people are having these problems. But let me just say something because there's a word, there are two words I never use, all right? And it's gonna have one of the words you use.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Condoleezza Rice: White privilege, right?

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes, yes.

Condoleezza Rice: Why do I not use that? Because really? That unemployed coal miner thinks that they've got more privilege than us?

Freeman Hrabowski: Right, right, right, right, right.

Condoleezza Rice: So we have to be very careful with explanations that are about race.

Freeman Hrabowski: Okay.

Condoleezza Rice: I have never wanted to say we have a class problem in America because I always thought of class as something that was immutable. I studied Marx so the class struggle.

Freeman Hrabowski: Yes.

Condoleezza Rice: And you were born into a class and you stayed in a class. And I didn't think of America that way. There was upward mobility and my kids may be better off than I am. And I have to say, I'm beginning to think we have a class problem because people are getting trapped where they were. It was always a sense that you were not a prisoner of the circumstances of your birth. And increasingly too many kids are prisoners of their birth. And so that's what we have to do something about.

Peter Robinson: Last question. Let me close here with a passage from my new favorite document, Dr. King's letter from Birmingham jail, quote. This is a longish quotation but you'll see why I'm reading it. This is Dr. King, "I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas, which said," now he's quoting the letter he received. "'All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2,000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.'" Now, Dr. King replies, "All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively." That's Dr. King writing in this town six decades ago. We've talked about your backgrounds. We've also talked about what all three of you have accomplished. You could not have done that without using time well. All three of you could only have accomplished what you've accomplished by making constructive use of time. So think again, two of you are professional educators, you work a lot with kids, think of a student. What do you tell a student? How do you tell a student to use time? And answer in any way you'd like. How to use the hours of a day or how to use the years of a life. But how do you tell a student to use time? Freeman?

Freeman Hrabowski: I'm gonna do it very differently, but I'll make the point. I like this conversation as we think about time because we are agreeing even to disagree in this short time without taking it personally. In our country, we start disagreeing and we stop listening to each other through tweets, through something on different stations. And we're not even on the same page. What you've seen with us is that we don't have to be of the same opinion about things, but we are hearing different perspectives in this short period and we're adding to the richness of the conversation. And we don't finish the conversation, but we take away from this time different perspectives to keep thinking about, and the thinking will continue.

Peter Robinson: There's also something pretty remarkable about friendships that have lasted more than six decades now.

Freeman Hrabowski: Sixty years, yes. And will continue through life.

Peter Robinson: Mary, time.

Freeman Hrabowski: Praise God.

Peter Robinson: Time.

Mary Bush: You know, I'm a big believer in everything in life can teach you something. I love learning, I love learning new things. And what I tell people if you have to see what you can glean from every situation you're in. Whether it's a challenge or whether it's something that promotes you and supports you, what have you learned? So part of the way that you, or a big part of the way that you use time is that you learn, you observe, as Freeman said, you listen. And I have to reiterate what he said, that's what we're missing so much of in this country, that's what we're missing on college campuses right now. People take attitudes or positions and they don't listen to each other therefore they don't engage with each other therefore they don't know how to negotiate with each other or with anybody else in the world. So use it to learn, to observe, and to figure out, so that you gain wisdom that way.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: Condi, time.

Condoleezza Rice: So my take is a little different actually. I want to tell my students, you have more time than you think.

Peter Robinson: Really?

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, their time has sped up so much.

Mary Bush: Mm, that's true.

Condoleezza Rice: They think if they have Googled it, they've researched it. Everything is a fast food news story, everything is a tweet. TikTok tells you how to think about the long, long history of the Middle East. And I wanna say to them sometimes, life unfolds in many, many, many chapters. And you don't have to know what you're gonna be doing at 45 years old or 50 years old, you may not even know what you're gonna be doing at 30 years old. They come to me and they say, "How do I do what you did, and they maybe Secretary of State?" And I say, "Well, you actually start as a failed piano major." And so life is gonna give you many challenges and many chapters and many opportunities. And don't always be looking ahead, try to really be present with where you are at that time. And milk it for everything that it is, for those conversations, for that reading, for that one more second just to stop and look when you're out in another country and to hear what people are saying. Take your time.

Peter Robinson: Condoleezza Rice, Freeman Hrabowski, Mary Bush, thank you.

Mary Bush: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: Now I'm going to ask something that even the three of you may think is crazy. But I was so struck reading the notes you were in choir, do you feel the urge to sing? It just feels as though, it feels as though-

Condoleezza Rice: No, no, we don't.

Peter Robinson: No?

Condoleezza Rice: No we don't.

Peter Robinson: It feels as though this space,

Freeman Hrabowski: This is not a Black group.

Peter Robinson: It feels as though this space should hear your voices again after all these years. No? All right.

Freeman Hrabowski: Oh gosh.

Peter Robinson: Thank you.

Condoleezza Rice: That was marvelous.

Freeman Hrabowski: She would do it.

Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, she would.

Peter Robinson: You sing a solo, hold on, hold on. Quiet down, quiet down. For the Hoover Institution and Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Thank you. Now go back to your raucous laugh.

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