What role does Cecil take?
Cecil, after having witnessed the traumatic experience of his father
being shot and killed while his mother was raped, became very familiar at an
early age of the racism Afro-Americans faced. As a boy, he grew up learning to
work as a house servant, were he acquired the skills and importance of silence
and obedience. After leaving, he slowly developed his career in the city, later
hired to serve as a butler in the Whitehouse. Cecil has always taken on a
reserved personality, through it being able to subtly, perhaps not even
knowingly, influence the others around him. As stated previously in The Butler by the character Martin
Luther King, the negro butlers play an important role in the Civil Rights
Movement, as unconsciously they abolish the negro stereotypes by being
hardworking and loyal. Cecil does exactly this, each President affected somehow
by his simple and honest comments.
Is his life successful?
Yes, Cecil’s life is very successful. He began on a cotton farm as a
slave, living in fear of being shot or beaten any moment. He soon left and
moved to the city, obtaining a real profession and starting to making his own
money. He later became a butler in the Whitehouse, serving the most important
person in the United States – the President. Yet it was not only the career
aspect of his life that made it successful, but what he did with it. He was
subtle and earnest, touching the hearts of many and influencing others as well.
Towards the end of his life, he learned the importance of standing up for
oneself, something that he had been strongly against since the day his father
was shot. He earned more respect for himself through his courage, and was able
to finally not accept the negroes’ place in society. Not only that, but his
hard work allowed him to provide for and raise a family, in turn having a son
that became a strong advocate and fighter for black rights.
How does he fight for equality?
As stated previously, Cecil’s silence and cooperation was just as
influential as the other negroes that risked their lives for equality. The
literal image of black serving white created by his profession left many
Presidents wondering. As they battled with how they should react towards the
protests, fights and overall complications of the negroes Civil Rights
Movement, there always stood a plain, expressionless figure by the door, eyes
ahead and unfocused. But the President’s all knew that Cecil was listening, and
it filled them each with resentment, even if they didn’t act upon it. It Began
with JFK’s inauguration, where Cecil’s place gave Kennedy the courage to try
and make a change. His assassination frightened later politicians, yet they saw
Cecil’s gaze in the back of their heads, and it wasn’t easy to rid of. Each
President could not suppress a surge of pity, and ask Cecil about his own life.
His simple, blunt, yet equally polite responses left President’s swooning with
uncertainty. Later, when Cecil grows to understand the decisions of his son,
Louis, he is finally able to stand up for himself. Cecil’s kindness may not
have convinced President’s that all negroes were okay, but it at least showed
them what a negro could be like. During Reagan’s Presidency, it was made clear
that he did not fight for Afro-American rights. Yet each time, he was
sympathetic to Cecil, even fighting for his rights within the workplace,
allowing him to be promoted. Cecil showed even the more stubborn President’s in
office that negroes were human, and that they were just as capable and loyal as
any white man or woman.
What role does Louis Gaines take?
Louis Gaines, Cecil’s oldest son, had a completely different opinion
to his father. Perhaps living in a more racially advanced urban environment, he
did not feel the superiority of the whites over negroes as much as his father
did while living on a cotton plantation. Instead, surrounded by such an
impatience for change, Louis grew determined to fight for equal rights. He
still carried with him his father’s gentle soul – he would not fight through
force, but with peace. During one part of the movie, with a group of other
students both black and white, he sits at the white section of a café, refusing
to move. Eventually, the whole group is arrested, and such events continue, at
one point being attacked by a white extremist group. Louis later grows
interested in politics, aiding in the organizing of a political party known as
The Black Panthers, and fighting for black rights. Despite being opposite, both
father and son are doing the same thing: Cecil does it unconsciously, while
Louis is determined, yet both fight for black rights in different ways, and are
equally influential. In the end, both see each other’s opinions, excepting,
even admiring, each other’s battle.
Are Rebellions and riots the only ways to influence social changes?
1926 – Macon, Georgia
Cecil is raised on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia.
This is a reference to a time before Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation in 1863, which made slavery illegal throughout the United States.
Before this, slavery was prominent, especially in the south for the use of
plantations. Among crops such as rice and sugar, cotton plantations were one of
the most popular. According to the USI (Understanding Slavery Initiative), by
1860, there were still 4 million slaves throughout the U.S., 60% of which
worked on cotton plantations. Cotton plantations were particularly brutal.
Originally, hardy, short-staple cotton was harvested, yet it was soon replaced
with the invention of cotton gin in 1793. Cotton gin allowed short-staple
cotton to be cleaned more easily, yet unfortunately, the number of slaves
increased instead of decreased, and their labour system was replaced with the
gang labour system. The gang labour system was particularly harsh, forcing
slaves to perform non-stop labour. The reason the number of slaves increased
was because plantation owners required more slaves to clear more land for the
new, more efficient cotton harvesting technique. The slaves were not treated
well, with rape, beatings, lashings, and even death prominent forms of
Note: Although Cecil’s childhood was spent as a slave on a cotton
plantation, the actual date 1926 is historically inaccurate as such slavery had
already been abolished by this time, making this only a reference to an earlier
time rather than a direct historical reference.
1957 – Washington D.C.
Cecil is hired to work as a butler in the Whitehouse.
This event is meant to begin recognizing the progress that negroes
had made in society. It recognizes the social barrier between the north and the
south parts of the U.S., and how the north was much more racial accepting of
negroes than the south. Negroes were now legally accepted as free people, able
to earn a profit and buy their own house, even work for the government and serve
the President, yet still unable to have the full rights of a white American
citizen, such as the right to vote. Negroes were still hired mainly to serve white
people, and although legally free, were visually thought of by society as below
the whites, their careers reflecting this standpoint.
1960 – Fisk University
Cecil’s oldest son, Louis, begins studying at Fisk University.
This event in the movie is connected with the role played by Fisk
University in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1942 at Fisk University, Charles S.
Johnson created the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University, an annual
seminar that lasted for one week. Here was were the famous sit-in campaign of
1960 was planned, where negroes stood quietly in a black-prohibited store.
Whites attacked them continuously with rocks and cigarettes, beating them up
when they refused to move to leave the store. Over a dozen were arrested, yet
in May of that year, downtown stores began serving negro customers. This
protest was very important in history because it showed that change could be
established without violence. The negroes who participated in this event simply
sat quietly: they did not fight or argue, not even backing down when they were
attacked by the whites. Their protest encouraged the execution of nonviolent
direct action to make a change, and has helped popularize peaceful revolution
1961 – The Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson became president after John Kennedy’s
This event is very important as it marks the time of President John
Kennedy’s assassination, who was killed mainly because of his advocation
towards black rights and strengthening of the Civil Rights Commission. Johnson,
who was the Vice President at the time, took over presidency after Kennedy’s assassination.
Kennedy only offered Johnson the job of vice president as a way to earn the
support of the Southern Democrats, as Johnson was not as keen Kennedy’s opinions.
Johnson was originally frustrated due to his little influence over Kennedy and
towards legislative issues. Although Johnson did not see eye to eye with
Kennedy, he followed through on Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities.
Johnson was very supportive of the Vietnam war, being against the communism
that was gaining uncomfortable popularity in Southeast Asia. Although eagerly supported
by the Southerners at the time, Johnson scored one more advancement towards
black civil rights – the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – expanding the right of
negroes to vote.
1964 – Malcolm X Speaking
Malcolm X gave a speech advocating black rights.
Malcolm X started his life as a negro that suffered from white
prejudice and extreme racism. His father was killed by white extremists while
his mother went mad from the trauma. He grew up in a foster home, separated from
his siblings, dropping out of school at the age of 15. He moved to live with
his older half sister in Boston who helped get him a job. He soon became caught
up in a life of crime and selling drugs, eventually sentenced to jail for ten
years for larceny. Before his release, he heard that his siblings had joined
the Nation of Islam, and converted in 1952. When released, he worked with Elijah
Muhammed, the leader of the Nation of Islam, working to broaden black right
movements across the U.S. He argued that a revolution could only be accomplished
through violence, and that racism was to be battled in any way possible. He was
in strong disagreement with Martin Luther King, who believed that change could
be achieved peacefully. Malcolm X later felt betrayed by Elijah Muhammed, his
mentor, who had disobeyed his own teachings of the Nation of Islam. Later,
Malcolm X embarked on a both spiritual and political journey through North
Africa and the Middle East, becoming more supportive of peaceful revolution on
his return to the U.S. Unfortunately, he was soon assassinated and his reestablished
potential for change was lost.
1965 – Vietnam War
The Vietnam War began, leading Cecil’s younger son, Charlie, off to
The Vietnam War started November 1st, 1955 and was a communist
war. The U.S. feared communism’s growing power and felt threatened by it,
causing them to send troops to fight against North Vietnam. The Vietnam war
played a prominent role in the black history, as it was a time of great
uncertainty within the blacks. Most of the troops that went off to war were, indeed,
negroes, and there was great controversy as to whether this should have been.
Some negroes, supported by Martin Luther King and other black rights advocates,
argued that negroes should not fight for a country that they were not part of. There
war was with the country, not for the country. Others argued that they were
American, and that they would fight for America, even if they didn’t have equal
rights. After 12 years, U.S. casualties had reached 15,058 killed and 109,527
injured, and many negroes remained frustrated by the battle, while the entire
nation suffered from such a blow.
1968 – Memphis, Tennessee
Martin Luther King is assassinated.
Before Martin Luther King’s assassination, there were already many
protests going on in Memphis Tennessee. On February 13th 1968, 1,300
black men from the Memphis Department of Public works went on strike. They were
fed up with the treatment of black employees, their strike triggered by two
negro garbagemen who had been run over by a malfunctioning truck. They were
tired of their low wages and poor safety standards, wanting support towards their
union. While on strike, police attacked them with mace and tear gas, leaving Memphis
black communities reeling. Martin Luther King was kept informed of the chain of
events, arriving in Memphis on march 18th to support the strike.
Chaos ensued as a snowstorm prevented King from leaving Memphis the following
day, leading to complications with the march that was meant to happen that day.
Violence broke out, and King ordered everyone to go back to church. Police
followed them, releasing teargas and clubbing people inside the church. Martin Luther King was later assassinated on April
4th, 1968, 42,000 people marching in his honour on April 8th.
1969 – The Nixon Administration
Richard Nixon was elected as president of the United States.
Richard Nixon, popularized by his attack on communists and political
opponents, first became Eisenhower’s Vice President while later becoming actual
president. In his early months, Nixon was accused of accepting gifts and money illegally,
as such could be used to influence his opinions. He denied this, comforting
citizens with his famous “Checkers” speech. During Nixon’s election, he focused
on sowing up the wounds that the United States had received from the Vietnam
War. The Nixon Administration embraced the policy of a unitary, unsegregated school
system, and signed the Voting Rights Act of 1970. He also signed the Equal
Employment Act of 1972, and appointed an African American to broaden education
and economic possibilities for negroes.
1974 – Nixon Second Term
President Nixon resigns from office.
Richard Nixon was the first every U.S. president to resign from
office, the reason due to the famous Watergate Scandal. Men involved in his campaign
broke into the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex, bugging
offices of political opponents and classified tapes of conversation within the
Whitehouse. This led to the uncovering of many cases where the Nixon
Administration abused its power, illegally investigating activist and political
groups. About to be impeached, Nixon decided to resign from office instead on
August 9th, 1974.
1986 – The Reagan Administration
Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States.
Ronald Reagan played an important part in the Cold War, especially admired
for ending the Cold War. Despite his success, Reagan was not very supportive of
civil rights, the most famous example of this in 1888, when he vetoed the Civil
Rights Restoration Act, already having been passed by Congress. Before his inauguration,
he also expressed his disagreement towards civil rights when he opposed the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, stating that it was “humiliating to the South” after being
elected. While in office, Reagan also supported Bob Jones University in a
lawsuit to obtain federal tax exemptions. The IRS had denied them as it denies federal
tax exemptions of segregated schools, and Bob Jones University forbid dating
and marriage between races.
2008 – The Obama Administration
Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
Barack Obama’s inauguration was most likely the biggest accomplishment
in black history. In only a few centuries, negroes had gone from slavery to
leadership of one of the most powerful countries in the world. He provided 20
million more Americans access to healthcare with the Obama Health Care Plan,
and provided 10.9 million more jobs. Obama was even reelected, receiving his
second term as President of the United States. Him, as well as his wife, were
both strong advocates for black rights and show how far negroes have come in
their racial battle. Yet even today, with Donald Trump’s inauguration, it can
be seen the fight equality is far from over, and that African Americans still
face racism and prejudice in modern society. They have come very far, but it is
only in recognizing that they are still unequal that allows them to make a
change and fight for the equality that was so longed and still longed for