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Long Overdue Honor for Harry McAlpin; Broke the Color Line of the White House Press Corps

Eighteen months ago I profiled Harry McAlpin.  He was a reporter for the National Negro Press Association and the Atlanta Daily World covering Washington and the Harry McAlpinpresident, but because he was black, he was not permitted to attend the presidential press briefings.

In the 1940s black editors and reporters began angling for representation, and Harry McAplin became the front man, getting permission from President Roosevelt himself to come into the press rooms for briefings.  White reporters tried to discourage McAplin from coming in, offering to take notes for him, but McAlpin was steadfast in his resolve.

At the first press conference he attended, he was personally welcomed by Franklin Roosevelt.  “I’m glad to have you here,” the president told McAlpin.

He remained in Washington working as a reporter for a few more years and then decided to return to Louisville, Kentucky to practice law and to support causes that were important to him.  (He had been the chairman of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before he became a reporter.)

Throughout his time in DC on the presidential beat, he was never permitted membership in the White House Correspondents’ Association nor was he permitted to attend their annual dinners. To read my original profile of McAlpin, click here.)

Righting a Long-Ago Wrong for Harry McAlpin

This May, while preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of their existence, the organization decided to right a wrong that had occurred 70 years. They gave McAlpin a posthumous honorary membership, and as of 2014 they have dedicated an annual scholarship in his memory.  His son Sherman was on hand to award the first scholarship.

McAlpin-profile-300x229When I first started looking into McAlpin’s story, there was not much information about him—a newspaper clip here and there.  It took a lot of digging to trace him back to Louisville where the archivist at the newspaper was surprised to find him in their files.

Perhaps America Comes Alive and our Black History Month celebration had something to do with heightening awareness. George E. Condon, Jr. who is at work on a history of the WHCA has ably picked up the thread of the story and added a great deal more, uncovering more detail on McAlpin than I had been able to find. (See his story here.) I tip my hat to him for this additional work on behalf of a man who very much deserves our respect and the belated honor bestowed on him by the White House Correspondents Association.

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8 thoughts on “Long Overdue Honor for Harry McAlpin; Broke the Color Line of the White House Press Corps”

  1. Loved reading about Mr. McAlpin. was viewing the WHCA 2014 dinner and heard mention of their scholarship program. As a commercial says, “Black history is American history”. It is so true and we shouldn’t forget.

  2. Thanks so much for reading and posting. Yes I was so excited about the scholarship, and I like to think that this profile of him helped bring his information front and center. The librarian for the newspaper in Louisville said when I called that no one had asked his files before. I hope someone will go in and take a look… I would but I have no plans for visiting Louisville soon.

  3. I Robin Johnson am Harry S. Mcalpin’s granddaughter….
    He and my Grandmother…Alicia Mcalpin were the most beautiful people in the world.
    I spent every childhood summers with them at their home in Kentucky.
    Nothing but the best childhood memories of learning and experiencing riding their horses…fishing on a creek that ran through their property…all the things a little DC girl would never experience without visiting grandparents …Harry S. Mcalpin and Alicia Mcalpin in Louisville Kentucky.

  4. Thank you for this article on Mr. Harry S. Mcalpin. This tells us of how important of many people who came to ensure our rights. How Mr. Mcalpin was excepted, many people who read his words than did not truely understand what our race has gone through. All he did was very important, I hope family knows how grateful we are for what he tried to accomplish.

  5. Thank you for posting. When I first found the story, no one had opened the file of the Kentucky newspaper library in a very long time, so when the fellow sent me copies of the article I was very grateful and knew I had come upon something important. About 2 years after that, the White House Correspondents Association set up this scholarship and family members were involved, so that’s great.

    Last year I came upon Alice Dunnigan, the first Black woman to cover a president, so you might like to read about her, too. The part that affected me the most about her story was that she was not paid well enough to have “middle class” clothing to wear for her assignments. There is nothing easy about what these people have done. Thank you for reading, and here’s Alice’s story: https://americacomesalive.com/alice-dunnigan-first-black-woman-reporter-to-cover-white-house/

  6. Melanie Thompson

    I Melanie Thompson am Harry S McAlpin and Alicia McAlpin grand daughter, and am so proud and amazed at his accomplishments, I remember fondly the summers spent at their home with family, also where I first saw so.many black history books. They would always make a point for us to read and report back on what we learned, that is where I learned alot of black history back in the day as it wasn’t mentioned much in my schools.Thanks for the memories

  7. Melanie, thanks so much for posting on this article. When I first found reference to your grandfather, I had trouble tracing him outside the DC area. When I finally found that he had worked in Louisville, I was so happy. The archivist there said that no one had ever asked for his file…what an exciting moment that was for me. Your grandfather was an amazing man who overcame whatever issues were placed in his way. I wish I had known your grandparents as they must have been very special people. Thank you so much for posting, and I’m so glad I gave you an occasion to think back to family time spent with them.
    All best,
    Kate

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