f the name E. Frederic Morrow doesn't ring a bell, it's time you did know the name, and a Memphis company is here to make sure you do.
Earlier this month, the Devault-Graves Agency came out with Morrow's Black Man in the White House. Just don't go looking for that title in bookstores. You can, however, order it online. Black Man in the White House has been out of print for 50 years, which makes it a perfect fit for Devault-Graves, a company founded by Darrin Devault and Tom Graves. Their mission: convert deserving out-of-print books into well-designed e-books.
Who, though, was E. Frederic Morrow? The New Jersey native died in 1994, but long before there was the movie Lee Daniels' The Butler, there was Morrow, the first African American to occupy a White House executive position: administrative officer for special projects from 1955 to 1961. Morrow had already worked for the NAACP, fought during World War II, and served in Eisenhower's presidential campaign. After his White House stint, he became the first African-American vice president at Bank of America. In 1963, Morrow looked back on his White House years in his first-person account, Black Man in the White House, and they weren't easy years given Eisenhower's guarded approach to the civil rights movement.
"No good book deserves to fall into obscurity" reads the website for the Devault-Graves Agency, and among the company's titles, you'll find e-books by Jack Kerouac, an autobiography by the photographer Weegee, four collections of celebrity profiles by Rex Reed, Graves' own Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, and, under the company's crime imprint, Chalk Line Books, Sharecropper Hell by Jim Thompson and The Secret Squad by David Goodis.
Obscurity, though, certainly described Black Man in the White House by the time Graves learned of it in the library at LeMoyne-Owen College, where he teaches English.
"I was looking through an old New York Times book review, and I go: What is this? I'd never heard of Morrow. And I teach at LeMoyne-Owen!" Graves said. "When Black Man in the White House came out, it really got written up, but Morrow has been forgotten. His book has been forgotten. Then I found out LeMoyne-Owen had a copy. And I thought: Let's look into this. Let's get serious."
So Graves and Devault did.
According to Graves, "Morrow was right on the forefront of the civil rights movement. He was a dedicated Republican. In the black media, everybody knew who he was. But Eisenhower was cautious about civil rights for fear of driving a wedge in the South. Some of Morrow's book is funny. It's a good read. But he was also a master of understatement. Everything behind what he says just looms."
Graves had no trouble convincing his business partner, Darrin Devault (who teaches journalism at the University of Memphis) that Black Man in the White House was overdue for what Graves called a "resurrection."
"Here was this trailblazer who served admirably for Eisenhower during a time when the civil rights movement was making headway," Devault said of Morrow. "Writing in a diary style, he references Emmett Till, integration in Alabama and Little Rock, and what he encountered day to day as a White House staffer. I'm excited about making Black Man in the White House once more available and especially in time for Black History Month."
Devault wrote the book's endnotes, but Devault and Graves invited a guest contributor to handle the book's afterword: local TV newscaster and Memphis Flyer columnist Les Smith.
"Darrin and I were impressed by the very first Flyer column Les wrote," Graves said. "He turned out to be just the guy to write the afterword, and he wrote exactly what we wanted the afterword to be. What we didn't want was something academic. We wanted somebody who could write from the heart."
For more on Black Man in the White House (at Amazon for $9.99 on Kindle) and other e-books from the Devault-Graves Agency, go to devault-gravesagency.weebly.com.