This Day In History: February 8th
Recognized as a pioneer in journalism, Harry McAlpin was able to break color barriers and cover content that was previously exclusive to white reporters. The reporter, editor and lawyer made history on February 8, 1944, when he became the first Black reporter to attend a press conference at the White House.
Born on July 21, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, McAlpin spent much of his youth in his hometown before leaving to study journalism at the University of Wisconsin. After deciding to pursue a career in journalism during the 1920s, McAlpin secured an opportunity with the Washington Tribune. The Washington Tribune was a weekly newspaper that centered on African-American issues and helped McAlpin to strengthen his abilities as a reporter, editor and office manager.
He then worked in public relations and advertising before joining the New Negro Alliance in 1933. During this time, McAlpin also furthered his education and enrolled at The Robert H. Terrell Law School, which was a historically Black law institution. He passed the District of Columbia bar exam in 1937.McAlpin did not stray too far away from journalism and worked as a Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender part-time.
Although the Black press covered politics and matters of government, journalists of color were not permitted to attend White House press conferences, nor could they join the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA). However, in 1943 the National Negro Publishers Association (NNPA, now the National Newspaper Publishers Association) successfully petitioned the WHCA for press credentials.
McAlpin was selected as the first White House Correspondent, but the association made it clear that he was not allowed to become a member and no notes would be shared with him. Despite being faced with hostility, McAlpin went to the Oval Office for his first press conference in 1944, where he met President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In the years following his White House debut, McAlpin left the NNPA and relocated to Kentucky, where he utilized his law degree. He also became a leader within the Louisville chapter of the NAACP and continued to practice law.
Harry McAlpin died on July 18, 1985, just three days before his 79th birthday. Seven decades after denying membership to McAlpin, the WHCA decided to honor his legacy by establishing a namesake journalism scholarship in 2014.