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Coloured Journalism: Another Alice In Wonderland

It was mentioned that President Dwight David Eisenhower pretended not to have heard the questions she had asked during the press conference day after day. …… Still, he failed to frustrate the young journalist who was hopeful that the time would change. She believed that the black people would be gradually allowed to enjoy their rights and she would get a chance to perform her duties as a journalist with full respect.
Alice Allison Dunnigan (April 27, 1906 – May 6, 1983) was the first black female White House reporter! A bronze statue to honour the great journalist will soon stand at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
After the WWII, many journalists received press credentials to cover the White House, Congress, State Department and Supreme Court. However, no one of them was black or female! Alice was an exception! She used to visit the White House everyday as the Washington Bureau Chief of the Associated Negro Press in the 1940s and ’50s. She also attended the presidential press conferences. However, the president used to ignore her. It has even been heard that President Eisenhower didn’t look at her when Alice shouted “Mr President” before asking questions. “It was very insulting,” she said in her autobiography ‘A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House‘ (1974). Alice added: “Still I tried to grab the president’s attention in the same way.


Alice Allison Dunnigan

Alice had also covered the White House during Harry S Truman’s presidency. She made history by being the first female African-American reporter to cover a presidential campaign when she went on Truman’s famous whistle-stop train tour in 1948. However, the ride was not a smooth one for her. At first, owner and Chief Editor of the Chicago-based Associated Negro Press Claude Barnett decided not to allow Alice to cover the presidential campaign. Then, Alice paid her own way to do it. She boarded the train and scooped the competition when hundreds of students in Missoula, Montana lined the tracks late one night to see the President. Truman came out in his pajamas and robe and a student yelled out a question on civil rights. The president proclaimed: “Civil rights is as old as the Constitution and as new as the Democratic platform of 1944.” He implied it would be part of the 1948 party platform. Later, a photograph of Alice and President Truman shaking hands splashed across the front pages of Negro weeklies throughout the US.


The Newseum

In her autobiography, Alice wrote that she had worked with three presidents and her favourite was John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Whenever Alice raised her hand to ask a question, JFK allowed her to do so.
Throughout Dunnigan’s career, she battled the rampant racism and sexism that dominated the mostly white and male professions of journalism and politics,” the Newseum said in a statement. It added: “She once famously stated, ‘Race and sex were twin strikes against me. I’m not sure which was the hardest to break down.’


A clay model of the bronze statue by the artist Amanda Matthews

Alice fought hard not only against inequality, but also against poverty. She used to get her salary on Mondays. But, the amount was nominal and she became penniless on Saturdays. So, she used to mortgage her watch for USD 5 on Saturdays and bought bread for Sundays. And on Mondays, she got back her ownership and reached the White House with that watch on her hand. Later, she headed the Associated Negro Press for 14 years, beginning in 1947. Alice used to provide stories to 112 African-American newspapers throughout the US.
After being displayed at the Newseum, the sculpture will be taken to Alice’s hometown of Russellville, Kentucky and installed on the grounds of the West Kentucky African American Heritage Centre as part of a park dedicated to the civil rights movement. Alice began her reporting career in Kentucky before moving to the national capital during WWII.
Can it be considered that Alice would always remain in the minds and hearts of people when human rights, racism, feminism, global journalism are broached on?

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