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Thread: A butler well served by this election

  1. #1
    Elite Member Penny Lane's Avatar
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    Nov 2005
    Over the hills and far away

    Unhappy A butler well served by this election

    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...
    By Wil Haygood
    The Washington Post

    WASHINGTON — 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 the Oval Office. Helene Allen 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.
    When he started at the White House in 1952, he couldn't even use the public restrooms when he ventured back to his native Virginia.
    "We had never had anything," Allen, 89, recalls of black America at the time. "I was always hoping things would get better."
    In its long history, the White House has had a complex and vexing relationship with black Americans.
    "The history [of blacks in the White House] is not so uneven at the lower level, in the kitchen," says Ted Sorensen, who served as counselor to President Kennedy. "In the kitchen, the folks have always been black. Even the folks at the door — black."
    There was, in time, a promotion to butler. "Shook the hand of all the presidents I ever worked for," he says.
    "I was there, honey," Helene Allen, reminds him as the pair sit in their Washington D.C. living room. "In the back maybe. But I shook their hands, too." She's referring to White House holiday parties, Easter egg hunts.
    "President Ford's birthday and my birthday were on the same day," he says. "He'd have a birthday party at the White House. Everybody would be there. And Mrs. Ford would say, 'It's Gene's birthday, too!' "
    And so they'd sing a little ditty to the butler. And the butler, who wore a tuxedo to work every day, would blush.
    "Jack Kennedy was very nice," he goes on. "And so was Mrs. Kennedy."
    "Hmm-mmm," Helene Allen says, rocking.
    He was in the White House kitchen the day Kennedy was slain. He received a personal invitation to the funeral, but he volunteered for other duty: "Somebody had to be at the White House to serve everyone after they came from the funeral."
    The whole family of President Carter made her chuckle: "They were country. And I'm talking Lillian and Rosalynn both." It comes out sounding like the highest compliment.
    First lady Nancy Reagan came looking for the butler in the kitchen one day. She wanted to remind him about the upcoming state dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He told her he was well ahead in the planning and already had picked out the china. But she told him he would not be working that night.
    "She said, 'You and Helene are coming to the state dinner as guests of President Reagan and myself.' I'm telling you! I believe I'm the only butler to get invited to a state dinner."
    Husbands and wives don't sit together at these events, and Helene was nervous about trying to make small talk with world leaders. "Had Champagne that night," says Helene, 86, looking over at her husband.
    He just grins: He was the man who stacked the Champagne at the White House.
    Moving up, but slowly
    The first black to hold a policy or political position in the White House was E. Frederick Morrow, who, in 1955, was named administrative officer for special projects in Eisenhower's White House.
    Kennedy started with two blacks, Frank Reeves and Andrew Hatcher, in executive positions on his staff. Only Hatcher, a deputy press secretary, remained after six months. Reeves, who focused on civil-rights matters, left in a political reshuffling.
    His successor, Lyndon Johnson, devoted considerable energy and determination to civil-rights legislation, even appointing the first black to the Supreme Court. But it did not translate to any appreciable number of blacks working on his staff. Clifford Alexander says he was the sole black in Johnson's White House, serving first as a National Security Council officer then as associate White House counsel.
    "We were fighting for something quite new," Alexander says. "You knew how much your job meant. And you knew President Johnson was fighting on your behalf."
    Colin Powell would become the highest-ranking black of any White House to that point when he was named Reagan's national-security adviser in 1987. Condoleezza Rice would have that same position under President George W. Bush.
    The butler remembers seeing both Powell and Rice in the Oval Office. He was serving refreshments. He couldn't help notice that blacks were moving closer to the center of power, closer than he could ever have dreamed. He'd tell his wife how proud it made him feel.
    Time for change
    Gene Allen was promoted to maitre d' in 1980. He left the White House in 1986, after 34 years. Reagan wrote him a sweet note. Nancy Reagan hugged him, tight.
    Interviewed at their home last week, Gene and Helene Allen speculated about what it would mean if a black man were actually elected president.
    "Just imagine," she said.
    "It'd be really something," he said.
    "We're pretty much past the going-out stage," she said. "But you never know. If he gets in there, it'd sure be nice to go over there again."
    They've got pictures of the Reagans in the living room. He's got pictures of every president he's ever served on a wall in the basement. There's a painting Eisenhower gave him and a picture of Ford opening birthday gifts, Gene hovering nearby.
    They talked about praying to help Barack Obama get to the White House. They'd go vote together. She'd lean on her cane with one hand, and him with the other while walking down to the precinct. And she'd get supper going afterward. They'd gone over their Election Day plans more than once.
    "Imagine," she said.
    "That's right," he said.
    On Monday, Helene Allen had a doctor's appointment. Her husband woke and nudged her once, then again. He shuffled around to her side of the bed. He nudged her again. He was all alone.
    "I woke up and my wife didn't," he said later.
    Some friends and family members rushed over. He wanted to make coffee. They had to shoo the butler out of the kitchen.
    The lady whom he married 65 years ago will be buried today.
    The butler cast his vote for Obama on Tuesday. He so missed telling his Helene about the black man bound for the Oval Office.

    slideshow here: The Man at the Door -

    A Butler Well Served by This Election -

  2. #2
    Hit By Ban Bus!
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    Mar 2008
    Back of Beyond


    I was beginning to wonder why you posted this with a sad face...

  3. #3
    Elite Member Shinola's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Smokin' with your baby


    Great couple. Strange writing style. Shifts around in time. Lacks nouns. The person who posted this, I thank.
    Posted from my fucking iPhone

  4. #4
    Elite Member *DIVA!'s Avatar
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    Nov 2007


    What a beautiful, but sad story.

    I don''t know if she really fucked the board though. Maybe just put the tip in. -Mrs. Dark

  5. #5
    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    Feb 2007


    What a wonderful story-but the end broke my heart. I am sure this jewel of a man will be well cared for. His home could almost be a museum ,with never seen before treasures of a life well lived. Singular devotion to his Country.
    I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West

  6. #6
    Elite Member chartreuse's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    the salad bowl


    awwww, i just want to give that guy a hug.
    white, black, puerto rican/everybody just a freakin'/good times were rollin'.

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