Cecil Gaines, a black man married to Gloria Gaines, is determined that neither of his two sons, Louis and Charlie, will ever have to know what it's like to be the offspring of a cotton picker like he is, he having witnessed slave-like abuses afflicted on both his parents by their white land owner employers when he was a child. Despite the less than happy circumstances which led him and to which he had to endure on this path, Cecil, as an adult, has worked in commercial wait situations to the white man, largely in upscale establishments, he learning that he has to be two faced in his approach to work, often supporting racist statements made or untruthfully answering racially charged questions by employers or customers while being accommodating but somewhat invisible as a human being. In 1957, he is offered - much to his shock - and accepts a position as an under butler at the White House among the black domestic staff, after a White House administration staffer sees and is impressed with his demeanor and work at the Excelsior Hotel in Washington DC. This appointment begins an approximate thirty year employment at the White House, one that is not always smooth for Cecil either on a professional or personal level. On the professional side, the White House is sometimes just a microcosm of what is happening in the world, his employment setting where he has to be even more careful in what he says or does. On a personal level, he is often at odds with his family. Louis decides to head to the front lines of civil rights activism, often placing himself either in personal danger or in situations still considered criminal. And Gloria may not see Cecil's time at the White House as worth the neglect it causes for their home life.