Harry S. McAlpin broke the White House press corps color barrier in February 1944, becoming the first African-American reporter to gain entry to the exclusive White House press conference. Despite almost being denied entry to White House Press Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) because of his race, McAlpin took the first bold steps in what would be a stellar career in journalism and beyond.
McAlpin, a reporter for the National Negro Press Association and the Atlanta Daily World at the time, joined a gathering of reporters waiting to enter the Oval Office to be addressed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The WHCA official stopped McAlpin and told him that White reporters were upset at his presence, but said if he waited outside they would share notes and let him join the association.
McAlpin ignored the request, and entered the Oval Office with the rest of the journalists. At the end of the conference, McAlpin approached President Roosevelt, who shook his hand and said, “Harry, I’m glad you’re here.”
The WHCA blacklisted McAlpin but his White House credentials remained intact and he covered Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman for 51 African-American news outlets. His actions paved the way for the Negro Newspaper Publishers association and other news correspondents to gain accreditation to the Congressional Press Galleries and the State Department in 1947.
McAlpin, who went on to practice law and headed the NAACP in Louisville, Ky. in the 1960s, will be honored by the WHCA at its annual dinner on May 3 in Washington, D.C.
A scholarship award named after him will be presented at the event, though he never officially belonged to the WHCA. McAlpin’s son, Sherman, a retired U.S. Air Force Veteran who now works for the Navy, will be in attendance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
The senior McAlpin passed in 1985. In 1990, the WHCA elected Bob Ellison as its first African-American president.
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