With a career that spanned five decades, American journalist Alice Allison Dunnigan became an inspiration for all African Americans and women as she dismantled racist, sexist, and prejudicial barriers within the world of American politics to become one of the most important political journalists of the mid-20th century. Maria Sadek delves into Dunnigan’s life and inspirational work.
Before becoming the first female African American correspondent at the White House, or the first black woman to be a member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries, Dunnigan grew up on her family’s humble farm in rural Kentucky. Born in 1906, she was raised amongst traditional ideas of gender roles and taught to believe her life’s duty was to marry young and raise a family of her own.
She was given a Capitol press pass for the White House, becoming the first African American of any gender to do so
However, from an early age, it was clear Dunnigan was destined for greater things. Despite only attending school once a week, by the age of thirteen she had reached the end of the education available to her in the segregated school district and had begun writing short features for the local Owensboro Enterprise newspaper, where she got her first taste for the world of journalism and developed a desire for a life that went beyond the autonomy of farming.
In a series of daring moves that would have been perceived as scandalous for the time in rural Kentucky, Dunnigan divorced her first husband at the age of nineteen and later moved to Washington DC, seeking opportunities greater than those she left behind in the South. It was during these formative years that she developed her skills as a writer by working freelance for the American Negro Press. It was through her hard work at this newspaper that in 1946, she was given a Capitol press pass for the White House, becoming the first African American of any gender to do so, and legitimising her position as one of the great journalistic talents to emerge in post-war America.
As a black woman, she faced a myriad of discrimination, racism, and sexism throughout her career
Dunnigan would go on to have an incredibly varied and impressive career in political journalism. Her achievements included being one of only two women to cover the presidential campaign of Harry Truman in 1948, tireless reporting of early Civil Rights protests across the country, and becoming an invaluable part of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, working across a variety of posts including the associate editor with the President’s Commission on Youth Opportunity.
However, it was far from an easy road for Dunnigan. As a black woman, she faced a myriad of discrimination, racism, and sexism throughout her career, all underpinned with blatant disrespect for her credentials and her ability as a journalist. She herself once said: “race and sex were twin strikes against me. I’m not sure which was the hardest to break down”. Awareness of this intersectionality between gender and race demonstrates the complexities of the hurdles she faced in her career, making her pioneering achievements all the more impressive.
Featured image courtesy of J. Stephen Conn via Flickr under a Creative Commons license. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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