First Black White House Journalist Remembered

By: Ryan Dearbone Email
By: Ryan Dearbone Email

Kentucky lawmakers recently honored the late Alice Allison Dunnigan during Black History Month. A Russellville native, Dunnigan became the first African-American journalist to cover a presidential tour.

Dunnigan earned press credentials to report on President Harry Truman's nationwide tour despite opposition from the paper she worked at. She turned that one tour into a career in the White House Press Room and a spot in American history.

"Very able to speak her mind and say whats on her mind," said her great-great niece, Penny Allison.

Allison also said that along with an unyielding spirit were two of the reasons her aunt was able to break through the all-white, all-boys club that existed in the press corps of the White House during the 1940's.

"Her persistence, 'Let's go...Lets go...Let me go. I need to be there. I need to be able to report this back to black people in a voice they're gonna be able to relate to," Allison noted.

"Once she got it where you can report on Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court, then you found journalists in other communities trying to report on venues they'd been barred from for many years," said Michael Morrow of Historic Russellville.

Dunnigan wasn't content having become a member of the White House inner-circle. She asked presidents hard-hitting questions that made some politicians nervous, such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1960's integration of Little Rock, Arkansas schools.

"She would keep on bugging Eisenhower about what he was going to do about Little Rock and when he would send troops. She just kept pestering him and he finally sent troops. But a consequence was he wouldn't answer any more questions from Alice Dunnigan," Morrow said.

Allison said Dunnigan's life as a journalist proved that the power of a dream and determination can make anything happen no matter what your skin color.

"If Aunt Alice were here today, she would tell you to go for the sky, go for the moon," Allison said.

Dunnigan also wrote two books, one that's about her experience in Washington called, "From The Schoolhouse To The White House."

She passed away in 1983 at the age of 77.

An exhibit chronicling Dunnigan's life and career is currently on display at Kentucky State University.

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