Black History Spotlight #5: Alice Allison Dunnigan

All this month, we’ve been shining a spotlight on prominent black history makers. From Frederick Douglass to Marsha P. Johnson, we’ve learned a few things about Americans who helped make this country great, and hope you did too. We’re closing out the month with Alice Allison Dunnigan, a black female reporter, whose beat was politics – primarily in the White House. Read on to see what life was like for a female journalist of color back in the day.

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/1/ Teen Prodigy

Alice first bit the journalism bug at age 13, when she started writing for the Owensboro Enterprise, the local paper in her home state of Kentucky. Although the extent of her contribution was only one-sentence news items, the experience left her knowing she wanted to be a reporter.

/2/ History Has Its Eyes On You

AT the time, black kids were only allowed 10 years of education, but Alice Allison decided to go further and attended Kentucky State University, where she completed a teaching course. She used her degree to become a history teacher in the Todd County School System, which was still segregated. While teaching her black kids, she noticed most of them had no idea of the contributions African-Americans had made to the state, so she made it her goal to educate them. Alice Allison then made “Kentucky Fact Sheets”, and gave them to her students as supplements to the required text in class. In 1939, the papers were collected for publication, but due to the political climate, no publisher was willing to print them. But in 1982, Associated Publishers Inc. finally took the papers to press and made the sheets into a publication called The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition. Alice Allison was a teacher in Kentucky public schools from 1924 to 1942, but because she wasn’t exactly getting paid the big bucks, she still worked small jobs in the summer, like a housekeeper and washing tombstones in the white cemetery.

/3/ A Full Time Job

But when she ended her teaching tenure in 1942, it was because she took on a call for government workers in Washington, D.C. during World War II. While she worked in her federal government job, she took night classes at Howard University,and by 1946, she was offered a job writing for the Chicago Defender newspaper as a Washington correspondent. The black-owned publication never used “negro” or “black”, but rather used the phrase “The Race” in reference to African-Americans. However, the down side to this was that the editor of the Defender was unsure of her writing abilities strictly because she was a women, she he paid her much less than her male co-workers until she could prove her worth.

/4/ HBIC

In 1947, served as a writer for the Washington bureau of the Associated Negro Press. During her time there, she sought credentials to become a member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries, but it didn’t come without a fight. The government denied her requests, citing the fact she wasn’t writing for a daily newspaper (a requirement for reporters covering the Capitol), but rather a weekly publication. It took six months, but she was finally granted clearance and became the bureau chief of the Associated Negro Press for the next 14 years.

/5/ White House Correspondent Years

In addition to being the first black female member of the Senate and House press galleries, she made history yet again in 1948, when she was named a White House correspondent, and again was the first black female to ever hold that title. In fact, she was only one of three African-Americans, one of two women in the press corps, and the first black woman elected to the Women’s National Press Club.

Of course, Alice Allison’s milestones didn’t come without a price. Segregation was still instituted throughout most of her time in Washington – during President Eisenhower’s eight years in office, he went from not calling on her at all to asking her for her questions beforehand (something no one else had to do). She was barred from entering some venues to cover him, and even had to sit with servants to cover Senator Taft’s funeral. When John F. Kennedy took his place in the Oval Office, he was the exact opposite and welcomed questions from Alice Allison, who was known as a hard-hitting reporter.

/6/ Working With the President

Speaking of JFK, he named her the education consultant on the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity in 1961. In 1967, she became an associate editor with the President’s Commission on Youth Opportunity, but left in 1968 when Nixon and his Republican team took over the White House.

/7/ Back to the Books

Following her career in Washington, she decided to tell her story in an autobiography, and penned a book titled A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House, which was published in 1974. A detail not covered in her book – she received more than 50 journalism awards for her groundbreaking work.