WHCA finally recognizes Harry McAlpin

Miami Times staff report | 5/8/2014, 9 a.m.
Reporter Harry McAlpin showing his press credentials to White House guards.

The White House Correspondents' Association Saturday finally honored Harry McAlpin, decades after denying membership to the first African-American to cover a White House press conference.

Journalists and celebrities at the 100th annual White House Correspondents Association’s annual dinner remembered McAlpin, who experienced racism and discrimination within the White House press corps, a predominately group of white journalists covering the nation’s commander-in-chief.

On Saturday, after 70 years of denying him membership, the WHCA announced the creation of a scholarship to honor McAlpin, whose son, Sherman was there on his father’s behalf. George E. Condon, a former WHCA president, wrote in the National Journal last Friday that the prestigious dinner was an opportunity for the organization to apologize for snubbing McAlpin, a reporter for the Atlanta Daily World.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary Stephen Early stepped in to admit McAlpin.

“Harry, you have been accredited as a White House correspondent by President Roosevelt and there is nothing we can do about that,” former WHCA President Paul Wooten reportedly told him, before offering to share his notes and ask questions for McAlpin rather than have him attend the conference.

“Reporter McAlpin went into the conference without having been accepted by the Congressional Galleries’ standing committee or by the White House Correspondents’ Association, which ordinarily passes upon an applicant before credentials are issued,” reads a Feb. 21, 1944 Time magazine article. “At week’s end the bypassed Galleries’ committee and the Correspondents’ Association has said nothing, done nothing.”

As a White House reporter, McAlpin covered the 1944 Democratic National Convention, another first for a Black reporter, and the death of Roosevelt in 1945. In covering the White House, he questioned Presidents Roosevelt and Harry Truman on issues facing the Black community, including employment. He stopped covering the White House in 1945 and later became a chapter president of the NAACP in Louisville.

Because he was denied membership, McAlpin, who died in 1985, never attended the group’s annual dinner. The first Black reporter to be admitted to the association was Louis Lautier in 1951.