Throughout history, Black journalists have used their passion for storytelling to unearth and amplify truths about America’s social and political landscapes. Two pioneering reporters who broke racial and gender barriers in media will be honored by the White House Correspondents’ Association. The legacies of trailblazers Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne will be celebrated through the creation of the WHCA’s lifetime career achievement award.
The award—dubbed the Dunnigan-Payne Prize for Lifetime Career Achievement—will be granted to individuals who have displayed exceptional service during their tenures as White House correspondents.
In 1947, Dunnigan—who served as a writer for the Chicago-based branch of the American Negro Press and the Chicago Defender—became the first Black woman to receive White House press credentials. She was one of three African American women who were part of the press corps that covered Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency. Amongst that collective of women was Ethel Payne, a Chicago native who became the first Black woman to provide international news coverage for the Chicago Defender. While serving as White House correspondents, both women brought issues surrounding racial discrimination and segregation to the forefront to get to the root of inequities faced by Black America.
Dunnigan later joined Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, working in the Department of Labor and on the Commission on Youth Opportunity. Payne solidified herself as a renowned global journalist, covering wars overseas and interviewing revered leaders like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. She later became the first Black woman radio and television reporter for a national network.
Both Dunnigan and Payne will be posthumously honored as the inaugural recipients of the award. Their families will accept the prize at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30. Broadcast journalist Gayle King will present the award.
“We are proud to see to it that Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne will be forever remembered for their service to the profession and to the American public,” WHCA president Steven Portnoy shared in a statement. “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.”
News about the award comes four years after the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum unveiled plans to install a bronze statue commemorating the life and legacy of Alice Dunnigan.