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.

Everyone’s Got Jokes at the Nerd Prom

On Saturday, the biggest names in Hollywood and media will descend upon Washington D.C. to mix and mingle with the slightly less ‘household name-y’ politicians of the nation’s capital for the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, or what is otherwise (lovingly) called the ‘Nerd Prom’.

While the White House Correspondents’ Association is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the dinner itself has been around since 1944. As the years go on, the event has seemingly become more ‘Hollywood’ (much to the chagrin of critics) as the press get to invite their own guests to the dinner, which usually results in the attendance of a veritable Who’s Who in the zeitgeist.

For example this year, USA Today is hosting Taylor Schilling and Uzo Aduba of Orange is the New Black, NBC News has invited Kevin Hart and Olympic snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg, while ABC News is keeping it in the network fam with Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara, and of course no D.C. event isn’t complete with out Darby ‘Sassy Gabby’ Stanchfield, and the POTUS & FLOTUS Tony Goldwyn and Bellamy Young.

Not to mention a comedian is hired every year to host, with the 2014 honor going to The Soup’s own Joel McHale (#SixSeasonsAndAMovie). He’s used to slamming reality TV and news hosts on his show, but will he be able to bring politics in the mix? (My answer: yes)

Over the years, talented comedians have been asked to prepare a comedic speech – usually a roast of the President and politicians – and some have proven to be better than others. Here’s a list of my favorites from the past few years – and a President for good measure.

5) 2012 – Jimmy Kimmel

Best Jokes:

“If you told me when I was a kid I would be standing on a dais with President Barack Obama, I would have said, ‘The president’s name is Barack Obama?'”

“Remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow? That was hilarious.”

To New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “I think you’re misunderstanding New Jersey’s slogan. It’s not the Olive Garden state.”

“Where are the CNN tables? Are the CNN tables real tables or virtual tables?”

4) and 3) 2011 & 2013 – Barack Obama

Because the President gets to crack his own jokes too. And Obama has been the absolute best.

2011 aka The One with Uncomfortable Donald Trump in the Audience

Best Jokes:

Basically all of the Donald Trump part.

2013 aka The One Where We Realized Barry O Had Better Comic Timing and Delivery Than A Lot Of Actors in Hollywood

Best Jokes:

“This whole controversy about Jay Z going to Cuba. I got 99 Problems, and Jay Z is one of them. That’s another rap reference, Bill (O’Reilly).”

“The sequester… the Republicans fell in love with this thing. And now they can’t stop talking about how much they hate it. It’s like we’re trapped in a Taylor Swift album.”

“I remember when Buzzfeed was just something I did in college after 2am.”

On not being on the cover of magazines lately, while Michelle graced the cover of Vogue: “I guess I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.”

“I’m also hard at work for plans on THE Obama Library, and some have suggested I put it in my birthplace, but I’d rather keep it in the United States.”

2) 2006 – Stephen Colbert

Ah, yes. The most controversial WHCD speech to date. Stephen Colbert went up as “Stephen Colbert” and basically shut down George W. Bush … to his face. Some fans of Bush even left the event because Colbert’s cutting remarks. But hey, who’s got the last laugh now?

Best Joke:

“I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound—with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”

1) 2011 – Seth Meyers

The WHCD was made for Seth Meyers. He’s intelligent, knowledgable and able to pull off a joke without being rude. I mean this is a guy who had been the anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update for years, and he knows some of the best writers in the biz. Get them all together and you have a speech of Fey/Poehler Golden Globes-like proportions. And the best host of the dinner by far.

Best Jokes:

“This event tonight has grown past Washington and many Hollywood celebrities are also here tonight. John Hamm is here. Yea. John Hamm looks the way every Republican thinks they look. Zach Galifianakis is also here. Zach Galifianakis looks the way Republicans think every Democrat looks.”

“Let’s start with Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wrote a book titled “No Apologies.” No apologies? When you have to proclaim ‘no apologies’ isn’t that a tacit admission you’ve made a lot of mistakes? If I come home from a trip to Vegas and the first thing I say to my girlfriend is ‘no apologies’, we’re going to have a follow-up conversation.”

“Donald Trump has been saying he will run for President as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke… Donald Trump said recently he has a great relationship with the blacks, but unless the blacks are a family of white people I bet he is mistaken.”

“The President and Joe Biden were not invited to the Royal Wedding and when Biden found out he immediately said to the President: ‘you, me, Wedding Crashers 2.’ I’ll book us two Amtrak tickets to London. The Vice-President loves the trains. And I assume it must have been hard for the President to tell Biden the new budget cut $1.5 Billion from high speed rail. ‘Joe, come on in, take off your Engineer’s cap. I have some bad news about the Choo-choos.’ As he broke the news, one of the straps on Joe’s overalls, sadly drooped off his shoulder.”