Reviews for Butler : A Witness to History


Kirkus Reviews 2013 July #1
A distinguished Washington Post journalist's account of the black White House butler who bore witness to eight presidential administrations. When Haygood (Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson, 2009, etc.) was covering the campaign of Barack Obama in 2008, he knew beyond any doubt that the former Illinois senator "was indeed going to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, to the White House." It was then that the author decided to see whether he could locate a black person "from the era of segregation" who had been a presidential servant. His investigations led him to an unassuming man named Eugene Allen. Born on a Virginia plantation, Allen grew up working as a houseboy for a white family. Possessed of refinement, discretion and a desire to make good in the world, he took a job as a waiter in a country club and then as pantry worker in the Truman White House, eventually rising to the rank of butler. From his unique vantage point "in the hard shadow of power," Allen witnessed history unfurl before him. He watched as President Dwight D. Eisenhower called on federal troops to protect black high school students in Arkansas, and he witnessed a nation mourn the death of JFK and become embittered over Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War and Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal. Allen's story, which began as a front-page article in the Post, would become the subject of a much-anticipated film, The Butler, which Haygood also discusses in context of the fraught and elided history of African-Americans in Hollywood. The book is brief, but the two sections and many images of Allen's quietly extraordinary life speak volumes about a nation struggling, and succeeding by degrees, to come to terms with an ignominious history of racial inequality. Poignant and powerful. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 October #1

In 2008, journalist Haygood pitched a feature to The Washington Post following his hunch that Barack Obama would be elected president. Seeking an African-American who had worked in the White House during the Civil Rights era, Haygood found Eugene Al-len, a butler during eight presidential administrations. In this expansion of his original essay, Haygood chronicles Allen's eventful life: from his humble beginnings on a Virginia plantation, through his time comforting John F. Kennedy, and into old age, when he cast his vote for the first black president. In the essay "Moving Image," Haygood traces the history of blacks in cinema beginning with D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation to the career of Sidney Poitier and the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. He also reports from the set of The Butler--the film inspired by his article--interviewing a range of cast and crew members. Haygood notes major events that occurred during Allen's career, including Brown v Board of Education and the 1986 passing of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Upon Allen's death, the London Independent recalled him as "a discreet stage hand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all." Haygood has done well to preserve Allen's memory. Photos. (Sept.)

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Publishers Weekly Annex Reviews

In 2008, journalist Haygood pitched a feature to The Washington Post following his hunch that Barack Obama would be elected president. Seeking an African-American who had worked in the White House during the Civil Rights era, Haygood found Eugene Al-len, a butler during eight presidential administrations. In this expansion of his original essay, Haygood chronicles Allen's eventful life: from his humble beginnings on a Virginia plantation, through his time comforting John F. Kennedy, and into old age, when he cast his vote for the first black president. In the essay "Moving Image," Haygood traces the history of blacks in cinema beginning with D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation to the career of Sidney Poitier and the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. He also reports from the set of The Butler--the film inspired by his article--interviewing a range of cast and crew members. Haygood notes major events that occurred during Allen's career, including Brown v Board of Education and the 1986 passing of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. Upon Allen's death, the London Independent recalled him as "a discreet stage hand who for three decades helped keep the show running in the most important political theatre of all." Haygood has done well to preserve Allen's memory. Photos. (Sept.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

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