Alice Dunnigan. Photo by Alice Sedwick. Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Alice Dunnigan: A Reporter "Alone Atop the Hill"

February 24, 2015

On February 24, 2015, author and attorney Carol McCabe Booker delivered an Overbeck Lecture based on the newly republished autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, who overcame both race and gender barriers as the first black woman to break into the national press corps in Washington.

Although well received when she self-published it in 1974, Dunnigan's memoir (originally titled A Black Woman's Experience: from Schoolhouse to the White House) is long out of print. Booker was convinced that with her editing and additional annotation, it would be a compelling read for a general audience today, and the University of Georgia Press agreed.

The new, retitled edition, Alone atop the Hill, follows Dunnigan from her childhood as the daughter of a sharecropper and laundress in Kentucky to her arrival in World War II Washington, where she worked first as a typist and eventually as a reporter. Ultimately she would become the first black female journalist accredited to the White House and credentialed by the House and Senate Press Galleries and the first to travel with a U.S. president (Harry Truman). She was also the first reporter to question President Eisenhower about civil rights, and provided coverage of virtually every racial issue before the Congress, the federal courts and the executive branch for more than a hundred black newspapers.

But far more than a recitation of firsts, Booker noted, Dunnigan's memoir provides an uninhibited and unvarnished look at the terrain, the players and the politics in a national capital struggling to make its way through a racial revolution.

Carol Booker is coauthor with her husband, journalist Simeon Booker, of the history Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter's Account of the Civil Rights Movement. She has written and edited for Voice of America, freelanced for the Washington Post, Reader's Digest, Ebony, Jet, and Black Stars, and reported from Africa, including the Nigerian warfront, for Westinghouse Broadcasting (Group W).

Past Lectures