The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) has announced the establishment of a lifetime achievement award in honor of two trailblazing Black women journalists.
From now on, the WHCA board will award the Dunnigan-Payne Prize for Lifetime Career Achievement on an occasional basis to recognize admirable service throughout an individual’s career as a White House correspondent, according to a WHCA press release.
Dunnigan, a reporter with the Associated Negro Press, was the first African American woman to receive White House credentials. Payne, a reporter for the Chicago Defender joined her a few years later and became known as the “First Lady of the Black Press” and a reporter who asked the tough questions. These two pioneering journalists were two of only three African American members of the White House Press Corps during the 1950s.
“This association of White House reporters has never given its due to these two pioneering WHCA members who paved the way for so many,” said WHCA president Steven Portnoy. “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.”
According to WHCA, During Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, both women made a name for themselves by questioning him at press conferences – when no other reporters would – about his administration’s support for civil rights for Black Americans. He eventually stopped calling on the two women at his press conferences.
Dunnigan was one of the first ten reporters recognized by President John F. Kennedy during his first press conference in 1961, according to the WHCA press release. She questioned the newly sworn-in president about the eviction of Black sharecroppers from their land in Tennessee in retaliation for registering to vote. It was the first time Dunnigan had been called on in two years, according to Jet Magazine at the time.
“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,” Portnoy said. “It is our honor to lift up their legacies.”
The WHCA board voted to approve the creation of the Dunnigan-Payne Prize in January of this year. CBS News anchor Gayle King will present the award at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which takes place this Saturday in Washington, D.C.