Alice Allison Dunnigan [1906-1983]
Across the country there is a growing movement to recognize noteworthy women and their historical contributions through public monuments. Unfortunately, less than 7% of the 5,193 monuments in the United States presently recognize women. We are about to change that statistic with the “Breaking the Bronze Ceiling” initiative. Each month TOPS will feature a Kentucky woman who impacted the Women’s Rights Movement. For more information visit breakingthebronzeceiling.com.
On August 2, 2019, a statue was unveiled on the grounds of the SEEK (Struggles for Emancipation and Equality) Museum complex in Russellville, KY. Attended by hundreds including local dignitaries, her family, and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorors, Alice Allison Dunnigan was honored in a ceremony befitting her historical significance as a pioneer of black female journalism. Prior to this, the statue had journeyed on a whistle-stop tour of sorts, from its creation in Lexington, KY to an exhibition at the Newseum in Washington, DC and back to Alice's hometown of Russellville. Her likeness was sculpted by Amanda Wallace, whose design inspiration was the 1947 photograph of Alice on the steps of the US Capitol holding a copy of The Washington Post, and cast in bronze by Brad Connell of Prometheus Art. A historical marker celebrating Alice's achievements had also been erected in Russellville.
The granddaughter of slaves, Alice Dunnigan was born to Willie Allison, a tobacco sharecropper, and Lena Pittman, a laundress, on April 27, 1906 just outside Russellville, KY. Her family upbringing was strict, emphasizing hard work and limiting her social interaction. Alice started school early and became an avid reader. At the age of 13, Alice began reporting and writing for the Owensboro Enterprise. She went as far as she was able in the segregated school system and became a teacher at 18 years old. She taught Kentucky History in segregated Todd County schools; and, realizing her students did not see any representation of themselves in the learning materials provided, Alice developed “Kentucky Fact Sheets” to highlight the struggles and accomplishments of African-Americans. These were compiled into a 1939 manuscript that was rejected and went unpublished until 1982, when it was given the title “The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition.” Throughout her 18-year teaching career, Alice continued her education, wrote for African-American papers such as the Louisville Defender, and supplemented her meager income in the summertime with cemetery, dairy farm, and domestic work.
As she moved up the ranks of black journalism, Alice Dunnigan was eventually named Washington bureau chief of the Associated Negro Press in 1947. In that same year, she became a member of the Congressional press galleries. In 1948, she paid her own way as she covered the Truman Presidential campaign tour. Upon her return, Alice was the first black female to be given credentials as a White House correspondent. Eisenhower refused to call on her in press briefings, but later relented only slightly as he required her to submit her challenging questions in advance, something no other member of the press corps was required to do. Still, Alice attended every single briefing without fail, sometimes jumping up and down in vain attempts to be acknowledged. In 1960, she joined the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign and was ultimately appointed to John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on Equal Opportunity and Presidential Commission on Youth Opportunity, where she served until 1970. During her career, Alice traveled to 4 continents and the Caribbean and received more than 50 awards for journalism.