Eugene Allen was a staple in the White House, serving as a butler for eight presidential administrations for over 34 years.
Eugene Allen was born in a log cabin in Virginia in 1919 under segregation. In 1952, he was hired as a "pantry man," washing dishes, stocking cabinets and shining silverware for $2,400 a year. In those days, blacks considered positions as maids and butlers in the nation’s capitol prominent and prestigious. But Allen was more than an employee. Promoted to Maitre D’, he was the first butler to attend a State House dinner as a guest, at the invitation of Nancy Reagan.
Some presidents would ask Allen his view about certain issues concerning the black community. After President Kennedy died, the first lady gave Allen one of his ties, which he had framed. Allen has served White House guests Sammy Davis Jr., Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey and Elvis Presley. He’s enjoyed a beverage at Camp David with Jimmy Carter and shared a birthday party with President Gerald Ford.
Allen worked in the White House during the largest moments in civil rights history; including the Little Rock Nine, the March on Washington, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the Vietnam War and Watergate. He had talked about his first encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr., who complimented him on the cut of his suit.
Seeing the progression of America from the walls of the White House made the election of President Barack Obama even more special for Allen and Helene, his wife of 65 years. However, Helene died the day before the election and Eugene went to the polls alone. He would attend the president’s swearing-in with VIP status. Eugene Allen retired in 1986. He was 90 years old when he died in 2010.