Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

February 18, 1944

On February 18, 1944, the Atlanta Daily World’s front page featured a story about Harry McAlpin who, several days earlier, became the first African-American reporter to cover a White House press conference. McAlpin was a former Chicago Defender Washington bureau chief and a Daily World reporter (click to view PDF).

NPR’s Scott Horsley profiled McAlpin in a 2014 piece when the White House Correspondents’ Association celebrated its 100th anniversary and honored the pioneering journalist:

It was 1944 when Harry McAlpin finally broke the color barrier in the White House press corps.

National Journal reporter George Condon, who’s writing a book about the Correspondents’ Association, says black newspaper editors had complained for years that white reporters covering the president weren’t asking the questions their readers wanted answers to. At their urging, Franklin Roosevelt finally opened the door to McAlpin, a reporter for the Atlanta Daily World.

“He knew there was one black face in the room where there had never been one before,” Condon says. “So after the press conference, Roosevelt, seated in his chair, called him over and shook his hand and said, ‘Glad to see you here, McAlpin.’”
Ordinarily, Condon says, the head of the Correspondents’ Association would have introduced a new reporter on the beat, but McAlpin didn’t get that courtesy. The association was an all-white club at the time, and its leader actively tried to prevent McAlpin from entering the Oval Office.

“He told him, ‘It’s so crowded in there, you might step on a white reporter’s foot and there could be a riot in the Oval Office.’ McAlpin was privately furious,” Condon says. “But he kept his calm, and said, ‘Well, I’d be surprised if that happens. But if it does, that would be a hell of a news story, and I want to be there for that.’”

McAlpin’s son Sherman says that sounds like his father — a man who was rarely confrontational but who could be persistent in pursuit of a goal.

“He was ... not into aggressively or truly overt means of achieving integration and so on. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t about to fight for equal opportunity and would press in a very measured way to achieve that,” Sherman McAlpin says.

The elder McAlpin later served as a war correspondent in the South Pacific and eventually settled in Louisville, Ky., where he led the local chapter of the NAACP. Harry McAlpin died in 1985.


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