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Alice Allison Dunnigan statue park in Russellville, Kentucky, named Historic Site in Journalism


Matthew Kent, SPJ Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788, mkent@spj.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, zberg@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has named the Alice Allison Dunnigan statue park at the Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky (SEEK) Museum in Russellville, Kentucky, as a Historic Site in Journalism. The Historic Sites program honors the people and places that have played important roles in American journalistic history.

In August 2019, the SEEK Museum installed a bronze statue of Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first black woman accredited as a journalist to the White House and Congress. At the statue dedication, Sonya Ross, the first black woman to cover the White House for The Associated Press, said, “I have been able to have the amazing career I’ve had because Alice Dunnigan had the audacity to believe in all possibilities for herself, and by extension, all black people and all women, and in particular black women.”

Dunnigan’s journalism career began in 1946 when she was offered a job writing for The Chicago Defender as a Washington correspondent. In 1947, she became Washington bureau chief of the American Negro Press, and a year later, was the first black journalist to travel with a president, on Harry S. Truman’s whistle-stop campaign.

Dunnigan was known for her straight-shooting reporting style. Politicians routinely avoided answering her difficult questions, which often involved race issues. As a reporter, Dunnigan chronicled the decline of Jim Crow during the 1940s and 1950s, which influenced her to become a civil rights activist.

“She used her position as a journalist and political connections to expose injustice and discrimination and keep these uncomfortable issues before the public, the nation and the political establishment of the country,” Dunnigan’s oldest grandchild Alicia Dunnigan said. “She was an amazing woman, not afraid to speak truth to power.”

In 1960, Dunnigan left her seat in the press galleries to take a position in Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. When Kennedy won, he chose Johnson as his running mate. In 1961, he named Dunnigan education consultant of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Following this appointment, she worked as an information specialist for the Department of Labor and then as an associate editor with the President’s Commission on Youth Opportunity.

Despite her extensive work in government and politics, Dunnigan was most proud of her work in journalism, and received more than 50 journalism awards. After her White House days ended in 1970, Dunnigan returned to writing, this time about herself. In 1974, her autobiography “A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House” was released. A new, annotated edition, edited by Carol McCabe Booker, was released in February 2015. It is titled “Alone Atop the Hill: The Autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, Pioneer of the National Black Press.”

In September 2018, Dunnigan’s statue was unveiled at the Newseum where it was displayed for much of the fall. It was then moved to the University of Kentucky and relocated again to the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. It was finally installed in the park named after her at the SEEK Museum. The museum is in Dunnigan’s hometown of Russellville, and occupies several lots in the heart of the city’s main African American neighborhood.

The statue park also includes the 1940’s Payne-Dunnigan House that contains a permanent exhibit about Dunnigan. The bronze statue was created by sculptor Amanda Matthews and is based on a 1947 photograph of Dunnigan on the steps of the United States Capitol, holding a copy of The Washington Post, looking ready to ask a question.

A bronze plaque will be placed at the location to distinguish it as a National Historic Site in Journalism. See a complete list of past winners here.

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