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6:05 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

Pioneering Black Newsman In The White House Belatedly Gets His Due

Originally published on Thu April 10, 2014 7:12 pm

The White House Correspondents' Association will name a college scholarship this year in honor of the first black journalist to cover a presidential news conference.

For Harry McAlpin, the recognition is 70 years overdue.

McAlpin, a correspondent for the Atlanta Daily World, covered his first Oval Office press conference in 1944 over the objection of the Correspondents' Association. At the time, the association was an all-white club and for years it blocked black journalists from attending.

Franklin Roosevelt agreed to admit McAlpin to a news conference after meeting with frustrated leaders of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association. But there were limits to the doors even Roosevelt could open.

"The president could break the color line for his press conferences, but he could not rewrite the WHCA's membership policies," said George Condon, who is writing a history of the association. "They blackballed [McAlpin] from ever joining the Correspondents' Association or attending the group's annual dinner."

Next month, as the association marks its centennial, members will pay belated tribute to McAlpin, who died in 1985. The first Harry S. McAlpin Jr. Scholarship will be awarded to a promising college student.

Steve Thomma, the association's president, said the idea is to recognize McAlpin's trailblazing role as a journalist, while also acknowledging a sad chapter in the group's history.

"I am thrilled," said Sherman McAlpin, the journalist's son.

In addition to covering the White House, the elder McAlpin served as a war correspondent in the South Pacific and headed the NAACP chapter in Louisville, Ky., where he helped lead a march on the state capitol in 1964.

"The White House correspondent era was just one facet of my dad's life," Sherman McAlpin said. "He has been and continues to be my hero."

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