Alice in whiteland


Alice in whiteland

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Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906–1983) was an African-American journalist, civil rights activist and author. Dunnigan was the first African-American female correspondent to receive White House credentials, and the first black female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. She has written an autobiography entitled Alice A. Dunnigan: A Black Woman's Experience


Alice chronicled the decline of Jim Crow during the 1940s and 1950s, which influenced her to become a civil rights activist. She was inducted into the Kentucky Hall of Fame in 1982.


During her time as a reporter, she became the first black journalist to accompany a president while traveling, covering Harry S. Truman's 1948 campaign trip.


After completing a teaching course at Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute, she taught Kentucky History in the Todd County School System, which was segregated at the time. She noticed that her class was not aware of the African American contributions to the Commonwealth, she started to prepare Kentucky Fact Sheets as supplements to required text. They were collected and formed into a manuscript in 1939, but finally published in 1982 with the title The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition.


Dunnigan reported on Congressional hearings where blacks were referred to as "niggers," was barred from covering a speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a whites-only theater, and was not allowed to sit with the press to cover Senator Robert A. Taft's funeral — she covered the event from a seat in the servant's section. 


Dunnigan was known for her straight-shooting reporting style. Politicians routinely avoided answering her difficult questions, which often involved race issues.


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.


When she attended formal White House functions, she was mistaken for the wife of a visiting dignitary; no one could imagine a black woman attending such an event on her own. 


During Eisenhower's two administrations, the president resorted first to not calling on her and later to asking for her questions beforehand because she was known to ask such difficult questions, often about race. 


No other member of the press corps was required to submit their questions before a press conference, and Dunnigan refused. When Kennedy took office, he welcomed Dunnigan's tough questions and answered them frankly.




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