On her first day covering the White House, Alice Dunnigan had every reason to stand out.

She was the first Black woman to be credentialed to join the White House press corps, and she had even arrived an hour early to cover her first news conference with President Harry S. Truman. But as she sat in the lobby of the West Wing, she may as well have been invisible.

“I sat there alone and apparently unnoticed, taking in all the activity while glancing now and then at my newspaper,” she wrote in her autobiography, “Alone Atop the Hill.” “If anyone wondered who I was or why I was there, they made no effort to find out.”

More than 75 years later, Ms. Dunnigan’s memory is being honored in the same setting where her colleagues once ignored her.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, in November named a new lectern in the White House briefing room for Ms. Dunnigan of The Associated Negro Press and Ethel L. Payne, who joined her on the beat a few years later for The Chicago Defender.

“The White House lectern is a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy beamed around the world on a regular basis,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre, who is the first Black woman to serve as White House press secretary. “I can’t think of two better people to be associated with that symbol than Alice and Ethel.”

Over the years, the briefing room lectern has become as much a cultural artifact as a political one, anchoring a room accessible to a privileged few.


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