When acclaimed Washington Post writer Wil Haygood had an early hunch that Obama would win the 2008 election, he thought he'd highlight the singular moment by exploring the life of someone who had come of age when segregation was so widespread, so embedded in the culture as to make the very thought of a black president inconceivable. He struck gold when he tracked down Eugene Allen, a butler who had served no fewer than eight presidents, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan.
During his thirty-four years of service, Allen became what the Independent described as a "discreet stagehand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all." While serving tea and supervising buffets, Allen was also a witness to history as decisions about America's most momentous events were being made. Here he is at the White House while Kennedy contemplates a moon landing; here he is again when Kennedy's widow returns from that fateful day in Dallas. Here he is when Johnson and his cabinet debate Vietnam and here he is again when Ronald Reagan finally got tough on apartheid. Perhaps hitting closest to home was the Civil Rights legislation that was developed, often with passions flaring, right in front of his eyes even as his own community of neighbours, friends and family were contending with Jim Crow America.
Also included in the book is an essay in the vein of James Baldwin's jewel, The Devil Finds Work, that explores the history of black people in Hollywood as well as over 45 pictures of the butler, Eugene Allen, and his family, the Presidents he served, and the remarkable cast.
About the Author
Wil Haygood been described as a cultural historian and is the author of a trio of iconic biographies. Haygood has been awarded a 2013-14 National Endowment for the Humanties Fellowship.
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Disappointing book expected more from reviews
I found this book to be a fascinating glimpse into both the History of the White House and the negro men and women who worked there. I look forward to viewing the film also.
A very entertaining story about the white house and civil rites
"Wil Haygood blends the political with the personal in this portrait of White House butler Eugene Allen. Allen, an African-American, served eight US presidents (from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan) for 34 years - a span of time that included remarkable gains in civil rights." The Christian Science Monitor "The Butler: A Witness to History should get just as much, if not more, attention than the film which uses its story for thematic foundation. Wil Haygood adds Eugene Allen's chronicle to his impressive list of essential works on great figures in black and American history." ArtsNash
Number Of Pages: 112
Published: 1st October 2013
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 19.8 x 15.8 x 2.0
Weight (kg): 0.3