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FIRST-PERSON: Madame secretary!

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–America has come a long way in its history and continues to do so.

One could not have imagined that only 45 years after the onset of America’s civil tights movement in the 1960s, the nation would have come as far as a president appointing and the Congress confirming a young, brilliant and highly qualified African-American woman as the nation’s chief diplomat. The story is remarkable in itself, but what gives the appointment of Condoleezza Rice even more poignancy is the fact that she was born in Birmingham, Ala. — the admitted hotbed of racial discrimination and civil strife at the height of the civil rights movement.

The month of February is the time that has been set aside by the nation to remember the accomplishments and contributions of blacks to America, and the ongoing achievements of descendants of American slaves.

No one was surprised when President Bush nominated Rice to replace Colin Powell as his secretary of state during his second administration. More than any other president in history, Bush has made sure that his cabinet is representative of the diversity of American society. Yet one cannot help but recognize that with Bush’s second term in office, the appointment and the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state is, nevertheless, a history-making event, and should be celebrated.

However, it is only in context of American race relations and the success of other valiant black women before her that the achievement of Dr. Rice is fully appreciated. Rice is just the latest in a succession of black women who have made marvelous political contributions to this country. Women like Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm and Patricia Roberts Harris braved the heat of political change to pave the way for contemporaries like Dr. Rice to have a firm standing place in service to America through politics.

Other valiant, brave and bold African American women, who are kept from slipping under the historical radar of public accolades, also helped pave the way for the future Condoleezza Rices of the world.

Black women like Sojourner Truth, who fought for women’s rights no matter what their color, as well as for the rights of slaves, cannot be forgotten. Harriet Tubman was born a slave — one of 11 children who lived in a one-room slave cabin — is today best known for her work that helped thousands of slaves escape to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Today, in a different way, Condoleezza Rice is serving to spread freedom far beyond the northern borders of America — but to people who lack freedom throughout the world. The executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks said of Rice: “She believes in empowering people. In international affairs, that means real commitment to liberty and freedom.”

Over the next four years, as Condoleezza Rice works to present freedom to some and to preserve it for others, she will be successful because her work already established for her. She is herself a person of committed faith, just as were Truth and Tubman. She will serve the country and the world well as she seeks to serve people who thirst and hunger to know the freedom and liberty that was guaranteed to all men by God.
Terriel R. Byrd is associate professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd