Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her mother was her "fierce defender," who stood up to the indignity of racial segregation in 1960s Alabama and lived to see her daughter begin her successful career in international politics.

Shopping trips with her mother in segregated Birmingham exposed Rice to racism, she said in a magazine interview, including an incident when Rice was about 6 or 7 years old and shopping for an Easter dress.

"The store clerk said, 'She'll have to try it on in there,"' and pointed to a storeroom, Rice told Good Housekeeping magazine.

"And my mother said, 'Allow me to be very clear. If we are going to buy this, she is going to try it on in there,"' and pointed to the dressing room, Rice said.

"And you could see this woman thinking it over, and then she sort of said, 'All right, go ahead,"' Rice said in the magazine's Mother's Day issue, on newsstands this week. "So my mother was pretty defiant, really."

Rice, 51, said she did not recall that her parents were bitter about the racism they faced.

"I remember my parents making it very clear that this was not about me or my worth," Rice said. "It was their problem, not mine."

Rice's mother, Angelena, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Rice was 15. Angelena Rice lived another 15 years, long enough to see her daughter embark on a career Rice would not have envisioned when her mother's disease first appeared.

Rice told the magazine she is grateful her mother lived to see "a trajectory for my life. At 15, I was still supposed to be a concert pianist. At 30, it was clear that I was going to do international politics. What I'm most grateful for is that she knew where I was going."

Rice, who is single with no children, is the first black female secretary of state.