Alice Dunnigan: Asking Tough Questions

Alice Dunnigan was born in Kentucky in 1906. Her father was a sharecropper and her mother took in laundry. She was raised in a strict family that valued education. She had learned to read before entering the first grade.

Since the local schools only provided 10 years of education to African-Americans, she was permitted to continue her education and attend college. She planned to become a teacher.

After college, she began a teaching career in a segregated school system. She began to realize that her students knew nothing of the heritage of African Americans from Kentucky. As a 13-year-old, she had written stories for her local newspaper. Writing was in her blood so she began to assemble fact sheets to supplement her students’ educations.

As the U.S. was experiencing labor shortages during World War II, she moved to Washington DC as a government employee. After four years as a government employee, she had an opportunity to return to her love of writing. She was able to get a job writing for the Chicago Defender, an African-American weekly paper.

As her writing career progressed, Alice applied for the necessary credentials to report to Congress. She was denied initially but was accepted six months later, becoming the first African-American approved as a credentialled reporter of Congressional proceedings.

She quickly made a name for herself as a tough-minded reporter. President Eisenhower took offense at her tough questions on race. She was the only member of the press corps who was required to submit her questions in advance. She refused. President Kennedy respected her tough questions and used those questions as a teaching moment for America.

Alice would move from her job of reporting to serve in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Alice Dunnigan experienced a number of indignities in her work as a writer. When she covered important functions, she was often thought to be one of the staff. She was denied access to other events.

Her achievements had gone largely unrecognized until recently. In 2022, the White House Correspondents’ Association created an award in her name as well as that of Ethal Payne, another African-American trailblazer. The White House briefing lectern has also been named in her honor along with Ethel Payne. Unfortunately. Both women passed away before they were recognized for their achievements

* * *

“If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it’s also time we acted a little more like gentle-people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites.” – Allie Marble (from her editorial)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.