Cecil Gaines
Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Cecil Gaines

Lee Daniel's The Butler

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About Him

Grew Up... on a cotton farm in 1920s Macon, Georgia. For a long time, the only thing he knew was cotton. It was hard work, but he didn’t mind because he got to spend all day with his father.

Living… in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife Gloria and their two sons, until the boys grew up and moved on to very different paths. Life was much harder outside the cotton fields than Cecil expected. No one would hire him, much less lend a helping hand. He was shocked at the treatment African Americans received no matter where he lived. But Cecil persevered and worked his way up, never giving in to anger.

Profession… butler at the White House. He never imagined he’d be working somewhere as nice as this, the most famous home in the country. Yes, he’s working for the white man, trying to make things better for his family. But not just any white man – the President of the United States.

Interests… civil rights. But his interests are more internal and passive than his sons and many other African Americans who have taken to the streets. He can’t condone his son putting himself in harm’s way – and yet he knows someone’s son has to do it. Because of his profession, Cecil himself has to watch the struggle from the sidelines.

Relationship Status... rockily married. Cecil met his wife Gloria while she was a maid in the hotel he worked at. While the demanding White House job helps give Cecil a sense of purpose, it’s left Gloria alone a lot. She resorted to drink and their relationship drifted. He’s trying to find a healthy balance between his job and his marriage.

Challenge… pushing for equality. After working at the White House for thirty years, he still gets paid less than white workers of equal or lesser tenure. African Americans do not receive promotions like other members of the staff do. It’s a privilege to do the work, but if the President can’t practice what he preaches in his own home, Cecil can’t be a part of it for much longer.

Personality… dignified. He’s always loved serving, but he feels lost in his old age. His position gave him a unique perspective on the changing times. He’s disillusioned with the blind eye Americans turn to daily injustices in their own country. We’re quick to point the finger to prejudice abroad, but reluctant to face it at home.

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