Black Man in the White House by E. Frederic Morrow - Read Online
Black Man in the White House
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An outstanding contribution to the literature of African-American history, Black Man in the White House is the first-person account of E. Frederic Morrow, the first African-American to reach an executive position in the White House. He served with distinction as Administrative Officer for Special Projects under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1955-61.
Originally published in 1963, Morrow's recollections are masterfully written, colorful, and filled with the day-to-day intrigue and office politics associated with the most powerful executive office in the world. This book is especially important in the story of the civil rights struggle because Morrow was instrumental in gently pushing the ever-cautious president into an acceptance of the plight of black Americans and into meeting with leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King. In the book Morrow discusses his triumphs and disappointments with candor, wit, and an unswerving devotion to the America he believed in.
Black Man in the White House is an excellent choice for Black History Month studies. This annotated edition of the book features extensive end notes to aid students and a touching afterword essay written by journalist Les Smith.
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ISBN: 9780989671446
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Black Man in the White House - E. Frederic Morrow

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Original edition of Black Man in the White House, copyright © 1963 by E. Frederic Morrow. Published by Coward-McCann, New York. Black Man in the White House (Annotated), copyright © 2014 by The Devault-Graves Agency, Memphis, Tennessee. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review, without the permission of the publishers.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-13310

ISBN: 978-0-9896714-4-6

Cover design: Martina Voriskova

Title page design: Martina Voriskova


Devault-Graves Digital Editions is an imprint of

The Devault-Graves Agency, Memphis, Tennessee.

The names Devault-Graves Digital Editions, Lasso Books, and Chalk Line Books are all imprints and trademarks of The Devault-Graves Agency.


By E. Frederic Morrow

A Diary of the Eisenhower Years

by the Administrative Officer for Special Projects,

The White House, 1955-1961

Afterword by Les Smith

To Catherine


A great many good people helped me during my years in the Eisenhower Administration. Despite the fine opportunity afforded me by the President and Governor Adams to serve on the White House staff, I needed friends—not only to help me perform, but to keep me from being overcome with heartbreak and disappointment over decisions that ran contrary to my hopes and beliefs. A few of these persons must be listed here:

The Alfred Moellers of Tenafly, New Jersey, the long-time friends who suggested I start keeping a diary just after the announcement of my appointment to the White House; General Andrew J. Goodpaster, Staff Secretary to the President; Clarence B. Randall, Special Assistant to the President for Foreign Economic Policy; Captain Edward L. Beach, and Captain Pete Aurand, Naval Aides to the President; Douglas R. Price, Executive Assistant; General Robert L. Schulz, Military Aide; Hon. Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior; Bernard M. Shanley, Special Counsel; General Howard McCrum Snyder, Personal Physician to the President; Colonel Walter R. Tkach, Assistant to the President’s Personal Physician; William J. Hopkins, Executive Clerk; James Rowley, United States Secret Service; Major Ralph C. Stover, Chief, White House Police; Grace E. Earle, Chief of Telephone Service.

I want to voice a special tribute to the fine women who served as secretaries and assistants in my office during these years. They served above and beyond the call, and protected me against many a difficult moment. They were: Laura Sherman; Peggy King; Marjorie Hogan; Mary Matheus; Gladys McKay.


I JOINED General Eisenhower’s staff as a consultant in August 1952 for the duration of the campaign. His headquarters were in the Hotel Commodore, directly across the street from my office at CBS where I was a member of the public affairs staff. I was on leave from CBS.

A few days after the election, Sherman Adams¹ called me over to the Commodore and said that both he and Eisenhower had been impressed by my work during the campaign and wanted me with them in Washington in some capacity commensurate with my background and training. I was very surprised and flattered, but said I must have time to think about it.

Not once during the campaign had I ever talked with anyone about a Washington position with the Administration. I was happy in my job at CBS and confident that it could lead to important advancement. There were personal complications too. My mother was a semi-invalid, and I had always lived with her in our family home and would have to make some provision for her welfare.

I had many talks with Sherman Adams, and he sent me to see several prominent persons to talk about the kind of spot I should occupy in the White House. Finally a letter from Mr. Adams definitely confirmed the fact that I would be a member of the White House staff and that I would be notified of this officially. He said that in the meantime he was turning over all the details to his assistant Maxwell Rabb². Mr. Adams advised me to tell CBS that I would be resigning, which I did.

After that I met frequently with Max Rabb, and each time there would be a hassle over the salary I could expect in any White House position. I had made it clear that I would not go to Washington for less than $10,000 a year, and I simply could not lower that figure. Max kept trying to induce me to take $1,000 or $1,500 less, and each time I would try to get a firm commitment he would tell me that there were a few more details to be ironed out. By the time the President had moved into the White House my status still had not been established.

The delegation had closed the campaign headquarters at the Commodore, and I began to find it impossible to get in touch with anyone. I phoned the White House dozens of times, only to be told that Mr. Rabb was out or in conference and would call me back. A very distressing period! Several months had passed since I had resigned from CBS, and I was living on savings which were dwindling fast. So was my morale.

Over three months after the Inauguration I finally got through to Bernard Shanley, special counsel to the President, and asked him to please let me know definitely what the score was on my going to Washington. He called me back the next day to tell me that he was very sorry but it had been decided that there was nothing available for me in the White House.

This failure affected me like some kind of complex disease. I tried to eliminate all the reasons why I had not been given the job. The FBI clearance had been swift and sure. I knew that my preparation was adequate. I felt that I had demonstrated my ability during the campaign and that my political record was such that there could be no doubt as to my being deserving. The only remaining possibilities were the personal ones such as prejudice or jealousy.

During all this time, Val Washington, Director of Minorities for the Republican National Committee, had been trying to move heaven and earth to find out the reason for my not getting the promised assignment. Meanwhile, members of the Administration were embarrassed by the treatment I had received, and other efforts were being made to find a suitable position for me. Through Val Washington, Charles Willis, Jr., Assistant to Sherman Adams, and others, I was finally offered the position of Adviser on Business Affairs in the Department of Commerce.

It was a new position and a policymaking one of prestige and authority, but the only reason I accepted it at all was because it would put me on the Washington scene. In effect, I took it for purely selfish reasons. However, in a few months I was so fascinated by the requirements of the job and liked my bosses, Sinclair Weeks³, and Charles Honeywell⁴, so much that I soon forgot my bitterness at not being assigned to the White House.

This was a pioneering job, and I had to convince a great many people in the Department of Commerce that it was possible to place a Negro in a responsible government position and have him measure up. Honeywell and Weeks stood by me at every turn, and I owe them deep gratitude for helping me to prove my worth and permitting me to try out my fledgling wings in Washington.

Two years later, one of the most welcome phone calls I have ever had told me to report to Sherman Adams’ office on the double.

I was interviewed, sized up and briefed on a possible staff job in the White House. Mr. Adams, with the President’s assent, had decided that I would join the staff. The groundwork had been laid fully; I merely needed to agree on salary, duties, etc. Jim Hagerty’s office would make the announcement over the weekend so that the story would get nationwide coverage. On wings of joy, I went back to the Commerce Department to resign.

Friday afternoon I took the Congressional to New York to spend the weekend with my family and tell them the wonderful news. I was in a taxi, speeding up Madison Avenue, when the cab’s radio blared the news of my appointment, ending with: . . . the first Negro ever to be named to a presidential staff in an executive capacity. When the cab driver turned around to say Did you hear that? he found a passenger with tears in his eyes.

It is difficult to explain my awed feeling the first day I walked through that austere northwest gate of the White House to report for work. It was one of reverence, gratitude and humility, but—rising up like a cloud to envelop me—there was also the awareness of walking into a gigantic fishbowl where the glare of public attention and observation would never cease. I was no longer a private citizen. I was public property.

For the average American, walking into the White House is like walking into a great cathedral. The atmosphere is almost holy. This is a sacred place in our country’s history, and the shades of famous and storied figures are all about. To walk here every day in the service of the President is among the highest of privileges. It was an experience I will never forget.

Actually, my official status was not confirmed until almost five years later when at long last I was commissioned formally. The story behind those five years was not told to me until 1958, when Sherman Adams explained why I had not been given the White House position originally promised me. He said he hoped I understood why no one in the Administration had the courage to tell me and spare me those five years of uncertainty and anxiety.

July 12, 1955

THE PRESIDENT and Sherman Adams can give the opportunity to serve in this kind of high position, but they cannot control the minds and thoughts of the White House staff. Most of them have been correct in conduct, but cold. It is evident that many do not relish this intrusion of an outsider. There are also those who believe that I am here merely as window-dressing, and have no real authority or importance. The career staff is the most distressed and the most insecure. My old friends of the campaign train—the Eisenhower Originals—are trying to be helpful and thoughtful. Among those I instinctively trust are: Ann Whitman, Tom Stephens, Mary Caffrey, General Robert Cutler, Gabe Hauge, Jim Hagerty, General Howard Snyder, Gerry Morgan⁵, and of course Sherman Adams.

I have been here ten days now and am still having difficulty recruiting an office staff. This is not to be a Jim Crow office solely made up of Negroes. It is to be like any other office in the White House, and the only criterion for personnel is ability. Neither visitors nor staff will ever refer to my office as that colored office down the hall.

I am seeking secretaries from the secretarial pool in the White House. These are trained girls, schooled in White House methods and protocol, and they are invaluable assistants to a novice executive.

So far, all those offered a job by their supervisor have refused. None wants the onus of working for a colored boss. This has not been said this bluntly, but. . . .

So I have been sitting alone in the office, bewildered as how to get going, how to staff, how to find furnishings, and how to make reports. I will not ask Sherman Adams. This may be part of a test to see whether I can take it.

July 15, 1955

TODAY STARTED out like all the others, but late in the afternoon I was sitting in the inner office, brooding on my fate, when there was a timid knock at the door. I opened it to find a shy, frightened girl standing there. She asked if I were Mr. Morrow. She kept the door opened behind her, as if for protection, and refused to come in to sit down. She literally blurted out her mission.

Her name was Mary O’Madigan. She was from Massachusetts. She was a member of the White House stenographic pool. Impelled by a sense of Christian duty, she had come to volunteer to serve as my secretary. She was aware of the attitude of the other girls in the pool, but felt she could not be true to her faith, and condemn me simply because of my race. She wanted to try.

I was overcome. The girl was crying.

November 6, 1955

GENERAL WILTON Persons⁶, who was in charge of the White House staff while Governor Adams was in Denver, presided over the staff meeting a few days after the President’s heart attack. We were briefed on the latest bulletins from the medical staff on the President’s condition. Of particular interest was a letter to General Persons written by the President’s per-sonal physician, Major General Howard Snyder, explaining exactly what had happened the night the President was stricken. The letter apparently was designed to point out the sensible conduct maintained by General Snyder in diagnosing the illness and in its emergency treatment.

There has been adverse newspaper comment on the original diagnosis offered by General Snyder: A mild digestive upset. But if the General gave the impression that the illness was less serious than it actually was, it was probably to prevent panic in the sickroom on the part of the President’s wife, as well as to spare the President by not informing him, at that early morning hour, that he had a coronary. However, as soon as it was possible to give a thorough examination with proper professional assistance, the information was given to the press immediately.

It is my personal belief that the entire country is impressed with the honesty of the reporting on this matter, and that nothing is being withheld from the public.

Of course, the staff is very disturbed, and we all wonder what this shocking news will mean. Everything has been going along smoothly, and it has never occurred to any of us that health might be the overriding consideration in the 1956 campaign. The country’s love for the President is at an unprecedented high, and it is inconceivable that any candidate could challenge him. Now we are faced with the startling fact that he may not be a candidate and that any other Republican nominee will have rough going!

November 7, 1955

I HAVE had a good lesson today on how the vagaries of international political life and one’s complete innocence of purpose can conflict and make trouble.

The National Council of Negro Women⁷ was holding its annual convention in Washington the latter part of the week. The Vice President had been asked to speak, or at least to extend greetings to the council. His office called me about the invitation, and I said it would be wise for him to appear, as this was a prominent group and its leaders had been identified with the New Deal in past years. I felt this was a good opportunity for this group to be exposed to the charm and the sincerity of the Vice President, and suggested that he speak on International Night, the highlight of the convention.

All parties were completely agreed on this when I inadvertently learned that the principal speaker on the International Night program was to be the roving Ambassador of India, Krishna Menon. This immediately provided complications. Mr. Menon has indicated his interest in Soviet patterns and policies and has not been overly friendly with United States’ efforts in kindred fields. I felt that the Vice President’s being on the same platform might prove embarrassing, particularly if Mr. Menon used this occasion to tee off on United States policies abroad or at home. It also occurred to me that newspaper commentators, writers, etc., unfriendly to the Administration, might make political capital out of the Vice President’s appearance on the same program, and he could become an innocent victim of editorial rhubarb.

I phoned Mr. Nixon’s⁸ office and suggested that we call the whole thing off unless he could find time to look in on one of the daytime meetings just to say hello.

November 9, 1955

AN INTERESTING staff meeting this morning, where we discussed details for the President’s homecoming from Denver on Friday. We want to keep the reception on a completely informal basis so that protocol will not be involved. The President’s plane will land at MATS Terminal at approximately 3:45 p.m. He will be met by the Vice President, who will welcome him home on behalf of everyone. This is designed to keep the President from having to shake hands with the many well-wishers and personal friends who will be around. It is expected that all Cabinet members, members of the Diplomatic Corps, and all Administration and Congressional personnel who are in the city will be at the airport. The President’s personal staff will be present also.

In his bubble car, he will drive across Memorial Bridge, where two fire trucks on either side of the road will be stationed with their aerial ladders forming an arch through which his motorcade will pass. A sign reading: Welcome Home, Ike will be hung from the arch. He will then proceed down Constitution Avenue, around the Ellipse, through East Executive Avenue, up Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House and down West Executive Avenue to the southwest gate.

The White House Staff and personnel from the Executive Office Building and their families will line West Executive Avenue to greet him. I have been put in charge of arrangements for the welcome there and have met with the Secret Service and the head of the White House Police to iron out security details.

November 10, 1955

AT LUNCH today I was shocked by Bernard Shanley’s announcement that he had just resigned as Appointment Secretary and the news would be on the ticker from Denver any minute. Apparently his decision had been made three weeks ago upon his return from his visit to Japan, when he stopped by Denver to see the President.

Shanley stated that he thought this was a good time to get out. It would be many months before the President could return to his usual routine of office, and this would mean that the Appointment Secretary’s duties would be practically nil. He felt he could not afford to hold a position that, at the moment, was purely honorary.

The talk at our table, among Rowland Hughes, Dr. Arthur Flemming, and Roemer McPhee of Dr. Gabriel Hauge’s⁹ office, indicated that this was a good time in the history of American government for a complete change in the concept of the President’s duties. It was felt that altering procedures of office could save the lives of many future presidents if some serious thought and action were given to easing the tremendous burden of signing papers, reviewing courts-martial, and greeting thousands of foreign and native citizens.

It was recalled that as far back as the Hoover Administration¹⁰ there was not even a fence around the White House and that every day at noon President Hoover would greet all the callers who happened to be there. His office was run with a mere handful of people, and there was not the frightful strain of today’s steady stream of callers. It was recalled that the budget at that time was some $6,000,000 and that during the Coolidge Administration¹¹ the President was able to dictate and sign replies to all incoming correspondence. Today’s mail often runs to 50,000 letters at a given time.

Dr. Flemming suggested that the American people should buy the President a home in one of Washington’s residential sections where he could live with more privacy. The feeling was that the White House should be used only for official and state functions. At the present time it often takes on the aspect of a funeral parlor, with thousands of people pouring through it every day.

It is wondered whether the Shanley spot will be filled by anyone else. The President has been anxious to retain him in some other capacity, but there is no available position of comparable importance that could be given him without loss of prestige.

We are all apprehensive as to how the press will treat this resignation. It well could indicate that the President will not run again and that because Shanley is an inside member of the official family he has some advance notice of this. The press might also take the tack that there has been a rift in the official family and that Shanley has been asked to leave or is resigning in a fit of pique.

There are unconfirmed rumors that Sherman Adams and Shanley have not always seen eye to eye, but if this is true I have no knowledge of it. At any rate, it’s the kind of situation in which politicians can speculate loud and long and unfriendly newspapers can have a field day with any interpretation that appeals to them at the moment.

November 11, 1955

I WENT over to the Vice President’s office at one o’clock today to escort him to the Willard Hotel, where the National Council of Negro Women was holding its convention luncheon.

There had been a great deal of confusion in trying to arrange a suitable time when Mr. Nixon could appear. His schedule was jam-packed, with the President due in from Denver this same afternoon, and it was a question of how quickly we could get into the Willard and say hello and leave.

We arrived at the hotel and were met at the door by the manager, who whisked us into a private elevator and up to the dining room. The inevitable photographers were there en masse, and the hauling and shoving and talk of one more picture began. I virtually had to shove the Vice President into the room in order to make sure he could keep to his time schedule.

He gave a charming and effective ten-minute address. He told the women that it must be pleasant for them to meet in the nation’s Capital now, when every possible facility was available to them without restrictions based on race or color. He congratulated them upon working so earnestly toward the same goals in human relations that the Administration is working for, and thanked them for their moral support in the never-ending struggle of the Administration to make first-class citizenship available to all Americans.

He touched briefly upon his trip across the world last fall, when he and his wife had discovered, in the Near East and the Far East, that all people—regardless of race or religion—have the same human frailties, ambitions and hopes and that a friendly smile and a warm handshake produce the same results in that part of the world as they do here in America or in any other civilization.

He thanked them for their concern about the health of the President, and said he must be off to the airport to meet him, and was sure that if President and Mrs. Eisenhower knew that he was there to greet the council, they would want him to extend thanks and best wishes to each and every member. The applause was warm and spontaneous. The Vice President was pleased that he had appeared. Many of the women at the luncheon tables made a rush toward him as he left the dais, and again he had to fight his way out of the room to get to the elevator. Again the photographers swarmed around him, and there was much to-do as many of the women tried to get their pictures taken with him.

He dropped me off at the White House, and before he left, inquired about my golf game, asking me where I played in Washington. I told him that I had not played in Washington the two years I had been here because the private courses were not available and the public courses were too crowded. I said that when I could get off on weekends, I went back to New Jersey, where I played at the Riverdale Country Club. He seemed honestly surprised and taken aback that a member of the President’s staff was unable to play on some golf courses in Washington. He said: Well, as soon as this pressure permits, I’ll get two or three of our gang together and we’ll play at one of the local clubs.

December 5, 1955

TODAY’s New York Times has an article by James Reston which states that Sherman Adams is among the prominent dark horses for the Republican nomination, in the event that President Eisenhower decides not to run. It says that Adams is the only person outside of the President who knows what the Presidency is all about.

This is an interesting speculation. I don’t believe that Sherman Adams could ever get the nomination. Professional politicians dislike his austere personality and ruthless honesty. Here is a man who is not interested in deals of any kind or in any sort of skullduggery that will enhance the position of the party. He has no patience with incompetence or with apple-polishers. He has made a good second man for President Eisenhower because he is completely dedicated to the cause of good government and the ideals for which the President and his Administration stand. I am certain he would make an excellent President, but under his regime the professional pickings would be so lean that they would wither and die.

Mr. Adams usually holds court in the White House mess about 1 p.m. when he is in Washington. He generally has as luncheon guests many of the prominent and distinguished visi-tors, foreign and domestic, who have come to see him or the President on business. Most of the members of the White House staff try to get to lunch about one o’clock, in order to see and be seen. Any recognition by the Governor during these periods is much prized by staff members. A nod of the head, or when he is leaving, a touch on the shoulder or an abrupt Come into my office as soon as possible, indicates the importance of the person involved. Also, if staff members have business with him, this is a good hour to determine his mood. If he appears to be sharp, caustic, and extremely cool, it is perhaps wise to put off the engagement as long as possible!

This man runs the White House with an iron hand. He is familiar with and briefed on every single detail of operation, and few decisions of any importance are made without him.

I have been fortunate enough to see his human side. From the very beginning—our meeting on the campaign train in September 1952—he has always shown a fatherly interest in me. A collector’s item in Washington is the picture of my swearing-in ceremony, where the Governor is looking up into my face with a broad smile. Few people ever see him in this kind of pose.

Whenever I meet him, no matter where or with whom he may be, he always makes it a point to speak and to inquire about my well-being. If it is in the White House staff dining room, he gives me a warm clap on the shoulder, or a playful rap on the head.

However, this indication of friendliness merely means that your performance to date has been acceptable and that you are expected to continue in the same vein.

I watched this man take over the Eisenhower campaign train from the very beginning and run it according to his own plans. There were many who would like to have challenged his leadership and authority, but none ever successfully dared to brave the chill of his withering glance and authoritative manner.

December 8, 1955

THESE ARE difficult days for me as I contemplate what is happening in Mississippi in the aftermath of the Till kidnap-murder case¹². My memorandum to Max Rabb expressed my fears that we are on the doorstep of a horrible