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Rural Blog: Russelville dedicates statue to honor legacy of African-American Journalist Alice Dunnigan

A small county-seat town in Western Kentucky will honor native daughter Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906-1983), the first African-American woman to receive White House press credentials, with the dedication of a bronze statue Friday.

The Dunnigan statue will stand in Russellville’s civil rights park, at East Sixth and Morgan streets, as a permanent memorial.

Alice Dunnigan statue in her hometown (Photo by sculptor Amanda Matthews)

Dunnigan was the daughter of a tobacco sharecropper and a laundress in Logan County. She attended segregated schools in Russellville and earned her teaching credentials at Kentucky State University. She taught for 18 years in Logan and Todd County schools in Kentucky before moving to Washington during World War II. She worked for the Associated Negro Press and became its Washington bureau chief in 1947.

“In August of that year, after she had successfully lobbied for a change in the rules of the U.S. Senate to allow African-American journalists to attend presidential press conferences, Dunnigan began her career reporting on all branches of the federal government,” O.J. Stapleton reports for the News-Democrat & Leader in Russellville. 

Dunnigan traveled on a whistle-stop tour with President Harry S. Truman, paying her own way because her boss said women didn’t make such trips. “Her statue has been on its own whistle-stop tour, having been displayed at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., the University of Kentucky, the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, and Kentucky State University,” Stapleton writes. “The statue was created by Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell, owners of Prometheus Art of Lexington.”

Stapleton notes that Dunnigan received more than 50 awards and is in the Kentucky halls of fame for civil rights, journalism and writers, “and the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. She authored two books: A Black Woman’s Experience from the School House to the White House and The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Traditions.”

Dunnigan’s story is an important one to teach because it gives people a reason to celebrate heritage, the community and the nation, Russellville resident and retired African-American studies professor Nancy Dawson told WKMS, the public radio station in Murray, Kentucky:  “With all the things we have going on politically, that’s more important … that people take pride and learn how to get past certain divisions and learn to work together. And I think these things do that.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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