First In Their Field: Alice Dunnigan

Today marks the 110th birthday of Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first African American correspondent to receive White House credentials.

Born near Russellville, Kentucky on April 27, 1906, the granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of a sharecropper, Dunnigan dreamed of being a newspaper reporter from an early age. At the age of 13 she started writing her first newspaper articles for the Owensboro Enterprise. Her professional career started off, not as a reporter though, but as a teacher. In the 1920s she taught history in Kentucky and made sure that her students were educated on the contributions African Americans have made to the country.

 

Her childhood dream became a reality as she became a professional journalist when in 1935 she was hired as a reporter in Louisville. Dunnigan covered the decline of the Jim Crow laws during the 1940s and 50s. Dunnigan covered the activity of the KKK at a time when no other white journalist would write about them. She was made chief of the Washington bureau of the Associated Negro Press from 1946 – 1961. In Washington she was the first female African American to sit in the Senate and House press galleries and was the first black women elected to the Women’s National Press Club. Later, Dunnigan went on to become the first African American journalist to accompany a president while traveling as she covered the Truman campaign during the 1948 presidential election.dunnigan_small.jpg

 

Dunnigan faced many challenges along the campaign trail. She had to pay her own way to travel with the campaign though, as no one would cover the cost of a black women reporter traveling with the president. She was often the only black reporter at Truman’s rallies on the west coast and feeling a sense of responsibility towards her readers at the Negro Press, would ask the president questions about the plight of African Americans in the country. She continued her reporting and questioning of presidents’ positions on the Civil Rights Movement through the terms of Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.

 

Over the course of her career she received more than 50 journalism awards and broke down barriers for other black women journalists. Alice Dunnigan died in Washington DC at the age of 77 on May 6, 1983.


Melissa Jones, Social Media Coordinator
Learn about more women who were first in their fields in the museum’s online exhibit
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