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Alice Allison Dunnigan - Journalist

Alice Allison Dunnigan was recently covered on CSPAN3. Alice was the first African American to acquire press credentials to cover the White House. She was also a civil rights advocate who overcame the struggles associated with both sexism and racism. A statue has been erected at the Seek Museum in her hometown of Russellville, Kentucky.

From Alice Allison Dunnigan's Wikipedia Page:

"Dunnigan's career in journalism began at the age of 13, when she started writing one-sentence news items for the local Owensboro Enterprise newspaper. She completed the ten years available to blacks in the segregated Russellville school system, but her parents saw no benefit in allowing their daughter to continue her education. A Sunday school teacher intervened, and Dunnigan was allowed to attend college. By the time she had reached college, Dunnigan had set her sights on becoming a teacher, and completed the teaching course at what is now Kentucky State University. Dunnigan was a teacher in Kentucky public schools from 1924 to 1942. A four-year marriage to Walter Dickenson of Mount Pisgeh ended in divorce in 1930. She married Charles Dunnigan, a childhood friend, on January 8, 1932. The couple had one child, Robert William, and separated in 1953.

"As a young teacher in the segregated Todd County School system, Dunnigan taught courses in Kentucky history. She quickly learned that her students were almost completely ignorant of the historic contributions of African Americans to the state of Kentucky. She started preparing 'Kentucky Fact Sheets' and handing them out to her students as supplements to the required text. These papers were collected for publication in 1939, but no publisher was willing to take them to press. Associated Publishers Inc. finally published the articles in 1982 as The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition. The meager pay she earned teaching forced her to work numerous menial jobs during the summer months, when school was not in session. She washed the tombstones in the white cemetery while working four hours a day in a dairy, cleaning house for a family, and doing washing at night for another family, earning a total of about seven dollars a week.

"A call for government workers went out in 1942, and Dunnigan moved to Washington, D.C., during World War II seeking better pay and a government job. She worked as a federal government employee from 1942 to 1946, and took a year of night courses at Howard University. In 1946 she was offered a job writing for The Chicago Defender as a Washington correspondent. The Defender was a black-owned weekly that did not use the words 'Negro' or "black" in its pages. Instead, African Americans were referred to as 'the Race' and black men and women as 'Race men and Race women.' Unsure of Dunnigan's abilities, the editor of The Defender paid her much less than her male counterparts until she could prove her worth. She supplemented her income with other writing jobs.

"As a writer for the Associated Negro Press news service, Dunnigan sought press credentials to cover Congress and the Senate. The Standing Committee of Correspondents (newspaper reporters who ran the congressional press galleries) denied her request on the grounds that she was writing for a weekly newspaper, and reporters covering the U.S. Capitol were required to write for daily publications. Six months later, however, she was granted press clearance, becoming the first African-American woman to gain accreditation. In 1947 she was named bureau chief of the Associate Negro Press, a position she held for 14 years.

"In 1948 Dunnigan was one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps that followed President Harry S. Truman's Western campaign, paying her own way to do it. Also that year, she became the first African-American female White House correspondent, and was the first black woman elected to the Women's National Press Club. Her association with this and other organizations allowed her to travel extensively in the United States and to Canada, Israel, South America, Africa, Mexico, and the Caribbean. She was honored by Haitian President François Duvalier for her articles on Haiti."

More to Discover

Joyce Butts shared the first paragraph of this story with me for the newsletter, and she unintentionally knocked me over with a feather!

My search for additional information about Mrs. Alice Dunnigan led me first to her extensive wikipedia page (a small fraction of which is included above) where my eye was caught by her photo on the right side of the page and its caption, "Dunnigan at her interview for the Black Women Oral History Project".

One click and I went down the rabbit hole of historical discovery.

WARNING: Once you visit the Black Women Oral History Project site, you will be lost in fascinating history for hours or months. I recommend setting a bookmark and a timer. Maybe tie a tether around your waist so your family can drag you away from the computer for dinner...ha!

Visiting the page with the actual interviews, I was able to listen to a portion of Mrs. Dunnigan's interview, and I would have liked to stay longer.

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