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White House Press Secretary Honors 2 Trailblazing Black Female Journalists

The first Black female journalists to cover the White House, Alice Dunnigan, and Ethel Payne, were recently honored in the press corps briefing room by Karine Jean-Pierre for their pioneering voices and persevering pens. 

Late last year, Jean-Pierre, the first Black woman to serve as White House press secretary, stood proudly from a brand-new press toast lectern and announced its new name: The Dunnigan-Payne Lectern. The New York Times reported that Jean-Pierre recognized the late trailblazing journalists with a podium dedicated in their honor. The occasion called to memorialize their service to the American public.

“This lectern, a blend of modernity and tradition, is to embody the essence of our country’s stature, built using a harmonious combination of metal and black walnut,” Jean-Pierre explained during the tribute. “The metal speaks to the resilience and strength of our nation, while the black walnut represents the rich history and the deep-rooted foundations upon which this country stands. The blue paint signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.”

Jean-Pierre also presented the annual White House Correspondents Association Award in the duo’s name. It symbolizes Dunnigan’s story, one that sought to inspire future generations despite racist policies that segregated Black journalists and sexist attitudes that severely limited opportunities for women in a male-dominated workplace. Dunnigan was the first to be credentialed during the Truman presidency, for the Associated Negro Press.

“The significance of that podium — I’m sure she never could’ve conceived of something so prominent and permanent, to stand as a beacon in that room, in her name,” Dunnigan’s granddaughter Alicia Dunnigan told The New York Times of the late journalist.

The tributes also celebrated the “First Lady of the Black Press,” a moniker used for Payne. She was a Washington correspondent revered for her fearlessness as a journalist and a civil rights activist. During her 25-year career at The Chicago Defender, Payne was driven to ask the “tough questions” about racism and segregation, including challenging President Dwight D. Eisenhower on his stance on banning segregation in interstate travel.

It didn’t stop her from covering racial injustices all over the world.

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