A lifetime achievement award is being named in their honor!
The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) is set to honor the first two Black women of the White House press corps, WHCA Press reports.
Alice Dunnigan was a reporter for the Associated Negro Press who made history in 1947 as the first African American woman to receive press credentials at the White House. Just a few years later, the Chicago Defender’s Ethel Payne would also join her. Both women rose in notoriety during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, regularly inquiring about Eisenhower’s take on civil rights for Black Americans in a way other reporters wouldn’t dare.
While Eisenhower maintained that he was against racial discrimination, vowing to do what was “decent and just,” his policies reflected different. In the summer of 1954, Payne questioned the president about whether Black people could count on his support for a ban on segregation in interstate travel. Eisenhower replied sternly that he would not “support any particular or special group of any kind.” The declaration came mere months after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling and prompted a scathing headline in the Washington Evening Star titled “President Annoyed by Query On Travel Race Ban Support.”
Dunnigan also held Eisenhower’s feet to the fire, inquiring about his views on segregated schools on military bases in the south and his support of civil rights legislation. It wasn’t long before Eisenhower attempted to silence both Payne and Dunnigan, refusing to call on the women during press conferences. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy called on Ms. Dunnigan at his very first press conference, Jet Magazine reported at the time that it had been two years since she had been addressed. Dunnigan took the opportunity to discuss the Black sharecroppers being evicted from their land in Tennessee as punishment for registering to vote.
Now Dunnigan and Payne’s contributions are being memorialized, the WHCA announcing its first-ever lifetime career achievement award named after the two women. And of course the first recipients of the Dunnigan-Payne Prize for Lifetime Career Achievement will be Dunnigan and Payne themselves, a homage to the trails they both blazed.
“This association of White House reporters has never given its due to these two pioneering WHCA members who paved the way for so many. We are proud to see to it that Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne will be forever remembered for their service to the profession and the American public… In the face of the racism and sexism of the era, these two women fearlessly brought the concerns of their readers directly to the most powerful man in the world. It is our honor to lift up their legacies,” said WHCA president Steven Portnoy.
The families of Dunnigan and Payne will be present to accept the posthumous awards on their behalf. The ceremony will take place at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30th with co-host Gayle King set to present the award.
Thank you for your contributions, Ms. Dunnigan and Ms. Payne. Your work was not in vain.
(l to r) Alice Dunnigan & Ethel Payne. Photo Courtesy of WHCA