Monday, September 1, 2014

Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks, education reporter, writes about finding adventure in the everyday, her opinions of current events and trends and occasionally her two cats.

Other Stories by Lydia Sheaks
Reporter Lydia Sheaks writes about education and family issues for the Elkhart Truth.

Why I can't stop thinking about Lee Daniels' The Butler

I don't think the 1960s were that long ago, but I was shocked by what I saw when I watched 'The Butler.'

Posted on Feb. 8, 2014 at 2:10 p.m.

The 1960s doesn't seem like a long time ago to me. I wasn't born then, but my parents were -- and they would be happy to know that I don't think of them as being "old."

That's why I was shocked when I watched Lee Daniels' The Butler last weekend. The movie chronicles the life of a man who serves as a butler in the White House for three decades. He works for many presidents, beginning with Eisenhower and ending with Reagan. 

I watched as America's civil rights history played out in this one man's family. I recognized the events, but it was different to actually see how a man, his wife, and two sons were ripped apart by what was happening to them.

In my country. In the late 1960s. Not that long ago.

I couldn't believe that my parents were alive in a time when black and white people couldn't sit at the same table and eat together. A time when it was acceptable for a white adult to spit on a black child. When black people were considered to be almost another species -- not human. 

And this quote, said by the main character Cecil Gaines -- the butler, sums it up:

"America has always turned a blind eye to what we done to our own."

The movie opens when Cecil is a little boy, working for abusive white cotton farmers, and ends as he watches Barack Obama become president in 2008. It's a powerful look at American history, and especially the history of civil rights. But what affected me the most was getting to know a family and watching them struggle to live in such a nasty world.

The movie also left me with some questions:

What America will I be living in 40 years from now, when my own children, hopefully, will think I am "not that old?"

What do I consider "normal" now that my children will be shocked ever existed?

Contact reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks or email her at

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