Almost 80 years after she blazed a trail in Washington, Alice Allison Dunnigan will be honored in her hometown with a unique event Aug. 2.
Dunnigan was born in Russellville in 1906. She was the daughter of a tenant farmer and a laundress. She wrote her first newspaper article at the age of 14 – a portent of things to come. After graduating from what is now known as Kentucky State University, she began an 18-year career as a teacher in Logan and Todd counties, but the writing bug never left her.
In 1942, Dunnigan moved to Washington to work at the U.S. Department of Labor and eventually began writing for the Associated Negro Press, becoming the first African American woman to become a member of the Congressional Press Corps.
Her stories were carried by more than 100 African American newspapers across the country.
Dunnigan had many firsts in her journalism career – in 1947 she became the first African American journalist to attend presidential press conferences.
A year later, she became the first African American woman to travel with and report on a presidential tour when she went on the whistle-stop tour with President Harry Truman.
Dunnigan reported on four presidents and has been inducted into the Kentucky halls of fame for Civil Rights, Journalism and Writers, and the Hall of Fame for the National Association of Black Journalists.
Her accomplishments have been memorialized with a bronze statue commissioned by the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center in Russellville. Last year, the statue was put on display at the Newseum, a Washington facility dedicated to telling the story of American journalism.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be appropriate (for the statue) to go to Washington, because that’s what she did,” said Gran Clark, president of the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center.
After being on display at the Newseum for several months in an exhibit on the civil rights movement, the statue has been on display at the University of Kentucky, the Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Missouri and Kentucky State University. It will now return “home” to be put on permanent display in Russellville.
Clark said Newseum officials informed him that the Dunnigan display, “was one of the most popular exhibits they had.”
Southcentral Kentuckians will now have the opportunity to see the statue and learn more about Dunnigan, starting with a special unveiling event at 4 p.m. Aug. 2 on the corner of East 6th and South Morgan streets in a new park area dedicated to civil rights.
Several speakers will discuss Dunnigan’s legacy, including family members and Associated Press Race and Ethnicity Editor Sonya Ross.
The event will also mark the formal dedication of the SEEK (Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky) Museum, which encompasses several historic buildings that make up the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center and the Bibb House.
The museum has spent five years renovating the home of Richard Bibb into a museum space. In the early 1800s, Bibb was one of the area’s largest slave owners, but eventually emancipated 99 of his slaves in the mid-1800s. The museum is hosting Aug. 3 a reunion of the descendants of Bibb and of some of the emancipated slaves.
The Bibb house and its history “lets us tell both sides of the story” of slavery, Clark said.