A Butler Well Served by This Election
For more than three decades Eugene Allen worked in the White House, a black man unknown to the headlines. During some of those years, harsh segregation laws lay upon the land.
He trekked home every night, his wife, Helene, keeping him out of her kitchen. At the White House, he worked closer to the dirty dishes than to the large desk in the Oval Office. Helene didn’t care; she just beamed with pride. President Truman called him Gene. President Ford liked to talk golf with him. He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week. “I never missed a day of work,” Allen says. His is a story from the back pages of history. A figure in the tiniest of print. The man in the kitchen. He was there while America’s racial history was being remade: Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock school crisis, the 1963 March on Washington, the cities burning, the civil rights bills, the assassinations.
The movie’s story is inspired by Wil Haygood’s Washington Post article about a black man who served as White House butler to eight presidents over three decades.
White House Butler Eugene Allen witnesses swearing in. Eugene Allen, who worked for more than three decades as a White House butler — some of those years during an era of brutal segregation when he often had to use back doors despite his employer’s rarefied address — sat in the shadow of the Capitol dome yesterday and watched Barack Obama become the first African American president of the United States.
In the end, Eugene Allen, a White House butler who lived a life behind the scenes of history, was the subject of wide acclaim. Several hundred people packed a funeral service Thursday at Greater First Baptist Church on 13th Street NW to celebrate Allen’s life and the national narrative he embodied. -Will Haygood
Archive of pictures via TIME