Mr. Eugene Allen, White House Butler To Eight U.S. Presidents, Born In Scottsville, Virginia, His Life Coming To The Big Screen Next Week In ‘The Butler’, Highlight Hollywood News

Director Lee Daniels’ film, “The Butler,” which has Oscar-buzz all over it, stars award-winning actress and Talk show host  Oprah Winfrey, Academy Award-winner Terrance Howard, Academy Award-winner Forrest Whitaker, Grammy Award-winner Mariah Carey and Academy Award-winner Jane Fonda, as First Lady Nancy Reagan.  The film is about a man, who my maternal family may  be  related to,  as my mother’s paternal family are Allens from Buckingham, just minutes away, as Buckingham and Albermarle were once the same county.  Mr. Eugene Allen, was born in Scottsville, Virginia, in Albermarle County, I was also born in Albermarle.  Allen was born on July 14, 1919.  Other famous Albermarle-born citizens include: Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and superstar actor Rob Lowe. Though Lowe was simply born there, because of his traveling military family.   Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek also lives in Albermarle now, and Academy Award-winner Jessica Lange recently sold her Scottsville farm, and now lives in Minnesota, when not filming “American Horror Story” here in Los Angeles.
Eugene Allen was an African-American butler who served under eight U.S. presidents, including Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. He witnessed firsthand some of history’s major events, from the assassination of JFK, to the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the deaths of Martin Luther King, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the four little black girls the KKK blew up in the Second Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the changing of the guard of eight presidents, and most important in his life at his final hours, the election of Barack Obama.  What became a punch-line for many, was historical and meaningful for a man, who worked as the silent hero at the White House, and then came home every weekend to Scottsville, Virginia, unable to use front doors at local stores and restaurants.  He said of President Obama’s election win,    “You wouldn’t even dream that you could dream of a moment like this.”  Is there any doubt in why so many of us have been mortified by the rancid racist rhetoric, emails, and tombstones, claiming the country died, on the first day of our nation’s first and probably ONLY African American President?

In Mr. Allen’s hometown, he lived in segregation while up until the 1960s, most Americans were living in “Leave It To Beaver,” and “The Waltons” society.  Yes, Waltons Mountain is also in Albermarle County. So, you can see the diversity and differences in what other people’s lives were at the same time.  My grandmother called it, “a parallel universe, where the other people didn’t give a damn about our suffering.”  Too bad, that’s still very much the case today.  With vile Facebook messages and other disgusting conduct, such as what the President witnessed in Phoenix earlier this week. 



Growing up during the time of horrific Southern segregation and Jim Crow laws,  Eugene Allen made his way to adulthood and found work as a waiter, first at a Virginia resort and then at a Washington, D.C., country club. By the early 1950s, Allen had landed a job at the White House as a pantry worker and was eventually promoted to the position of butler.
Allen met his future wife, Helene, at a 1942 D.C. birthday party; she tracked down the shy bachelor’s number and gave him a call. They wed the next year and would go on to have a son, Charles.

Allen served under eight U.S. presidents, beginning with Harry S. Truman. As a result, Allen had intimate knowledge of the inner goings-on of the White House. He heard both enlightened and offensive presidential remarks concerning race, and observed a gradually growing African-American presence among executive staff.



Allen, who went by the nickname Gene, was held in the highest regard by many and was noted to have an unassuming, humble spirit, bestowing his colleagues with excellent service and becoming quietly entwined in history’s notable moments. He was invited to President John F. Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination, but even while deeply mourning chose instead to remain at the White House to serve attendees as they came in from the services.



In the course of his work, Allen met famous people like civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and composer Duke Ellington, flew to Europe with President Richard Nixon and traveled with President Jimmy Carter to Camp David. He and President Gerald Ford shared the same birthday, and Allen was celebrated at the official festivities as well.
Allen was promoted to maître d’ during the Reagan Administration, and one year first lady Nancy Reagan invited him to attend as a guest a state dinner for West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Allen retired in 1986.

His wife Helene died in the fall of 2008, she and Eugene having been married for 65 years. She passed right before Barack Obama was elected president. Allen received a VIP invitation to Obama’s inauguration with a Marine guard escort. He cried as he beheld the ceremony, thinking back on the harsh days of segregation. “You wouldn’t even dream that you could dream of a moment like this,” he told the Washington Post.  Though he received many requests to become a public figure via speaking engagements or book deals, Allen declined and remained private.



He died at age 90. telling the Washington Post reporter, that “no one had ever cared to hear my story.”  Please remember when you are being what you are, a racist, that there are many people with a totally different upbringing, a totally different life, that they have been forced to lead, while you lived in glory and glee.  Remember, when you lose friends, because of who you choose to be, not who you have to be.  That it’s a great loss.  Even if you think it’s not, it is, and one day you’ll realize it.


While only a few years ago, I was called a “Colored Boy,” and on Facebook daily, and once daily by emails from a former neighbor, I had to ingest his and his wife’s passive aggressive bigotry, which I now am grateful to no longer have to endure.  These people have NO clue what others have been through, and they also do not care.  It’s a shame.  The disrespect the President has to endure is just because these same vile bigots, are unable to treat every-day blacks this way anymore, fearing their teeth being knocked down their throats, the loss of jobs and/or friends.  But, it’s very sad, that all the hard work people like Mr. Allen and Rosa Parks, and Dr. King did, was all in vain.


So, when Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the other right-wing GOP bigots start ranting and raving denigrating Jane Fonda and others in the film. Remember, it’s about a man, who none of us could have walked in his shoes for 9 decades.


Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  White House Archives and Allen Family and Lee Daniels
Follow us on Twitter @HighlightHwd or @LightfootinHwd
(Mr. Allen was wracked in pain on this day, the day he walked to the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama) something he never thought he’d live to see in this country, and thankfully doesn’t witness what the rest of us have to on a daily basis since his election.