The movie “Lee Daniels' The Butler” masterfully handled the evil of Jim Crow segregation with honor and dignity. Forest Whitaker's role as Cecil Gaines transports you through time from the cotton fields of the South, where injustice was as common as sweat on your brow, to Washington, D.C., and eventually as a butler at the White House.
In looking at Whitaker's character, I saw glimpses of my grandfather, Cottrell Ballard, who, with my grandmother, raised me and my three brothers because both of our parents were incarcerated. Like Whitaker, my grandfather was a proud but humble man from Gibson Station, Oklahoma (one of the all-black towns), and by the eighth grade he dropped out to take care of his widowed mother. He served in the second World War and fought in Italy and North Africa.
He had an undying quest for knowledge and advancement. It was something about being denied equality that inspired him to try to level the playing field with knowledge and education.
Oprah Winfrey and the cast depicted the ups and downs of family and community, navigating through an America that was not always user-friendly to eventually see blacks elected to public office.
The lunch counter scene in this movie is the most graphic and riveting I have ever witnessed, and keep in mind that one of the first sit-in demonstrations in the country took place in 1958 in Oklahoma City.
As an Emmy recipient, I see many awards in the china hutch for the cast and crew of “Lee Daniels' The Butler.”
Currie Ballard is a historian and a member of Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board, and he won a regional Emmy Award for the “Ebony Chronicles,” a black history documentary shown on OETA in 1997.
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