Her name was Alice Allison Dunnigan, and in 1948, she became the first black female journalist to report coverage of a presidential campaign. From there, she received press credentials to report on the White House and the Senate and House of Representatives. She was known to ask the hard questions on racial and gender equality and the civil rights movement. Now, her statue will stand in Washington D.C.
The statue will remain in D.C. only through December, hosted by the Newseum, before returning to Dunnigan’s birth state, Kentucky, where it will take its place on the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center in a park dedicated to the Civil Rights movement.
Sculpted first in clay, to be cast in bronze in the coming days, the statue is based on an iconic image in which the journalist holds a page from the Washington Post. Sculptor Amanda Matthews procured the right to include an authentic page from that publication in Dunnigan’s hands — a sheet that, aptly, carries headlines pertaining to equal rights for women and African Americans.
BlackPast‘s biography of Alice Dunnigan describes a life in which writing was always a part. From learning to read before entering first grade, to supplying single-sentence news items to the local paper at age 13, to writing textbook supplements for her students when, as a teacher, she realized that the available course material left out contributions by African Americans, Dunnigan’s story is full of her use of the written word to educate and inform. She would go on to have her stories published in 112 African American newspapers.
Dunnigan’s career in journalism, covering the White House and Congress, wasn’t without the struggles unique to an African American in a nation where segregation laws still existed. BlackPast describes events she wasn’t permitted to cover because they took place in Whites Only venues, and Dunnigan covering Senator Robert A. Taft’s funeral from servant seating. From there, however, she moved to a position in the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign, and then his administration.
After retirement, she published an autobiography and a historical work called The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, marking a full circle back to the days when she supplemented her students’ history education with her own fact sheets.
The Newseum, in announcing the statue, quotes Dunnigan as saying about her battle to be given equal access as a female reporter of color, “Race and sex were twin strikes against me. I’m not sure which was the hardest to break down.”
In a political climate where civil rights questions are still important to ask, and where journalists are responding to an administration that calls any negative coverage or difficult questions ‘fake news’ or ‘being rude,’ Alice Allison Dunnigan will be arriving in D.C. right on time — again.