African-American Journalist Who Broke Barriers Is Focus of Russellville Emancipation Celebration

Jul 30, 2019

The statue of the first African-American woman to be admitted to the White House press corps has come home to Russellville after being in the Newseum, the Washington, D.C. museum that promotes an understanding of freedom of the press and the First Amendment.

The legacy of Alice Allison Dunnigan is being honored during Russellville’s Emancipation Celebration that will be held Aug. 1-4. 

The bronze statue of  Dunnigan, a Logan County native, now has a permanent place on the grounds of the Russellville’s SEEK Museum district, which stands for Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky. 


Standing at the statue site, Dunnigan’s great-niece, 54-year-old Penny Allison Lockhart, said when she was a teenager, she got to spend time with Dunnigan during the summer when she visited cousins in the Maryland, Virginia and D.C area. 

“Every year we would go, I would always make it a point to make sure I called Aunt Alice," said Lockhart. "And Alice would come pick me up off of Branch Avenue in Maryland and I’d go to her house on Ogden Street in Washington D.C. and spend at least two or three days with her.” 

Dunnigan was born just outside of Russellville in rural Logan County in 1906, the daughter of Willie and Lena Allison. Her father was a sharecropper and her mother took in laundry. 

Dunnigan was a teacher in Logan and Todd counties for 18 years.

She married twice, the second time to Charles Dunnigan and they had one son, Robert Dunnigan, who died in 2016. Robert had five children.

Alice Dunnigan was a reporter for the Associated Negro Press and in 1947 was the first African-American woman to get press credentials to cover the White House. Her autobiography From Schoolhouse to White House, was published in 1974. 

Lockhart said Dunnigan overcame many challenges faced by women of her time, especially African-American women.

“I remember her strength. Her strength was amazing because as a young girl, from the time I knew that Aunt Alice had written the book, From Schoolhouse to White House, in my mind as a young girl, I have a very famous aunt," said Lockhart. "As I’ve grown older, I look back on her strength to realize that strength came from a struggle and a fight.”

Lockhart said Dunnigan was clear about how to live life.   

"She always reminded me: you can do and you can be anything you want to be,” said Lockhart.

The Alice Dunnigan statue is the centerpiece of this year’s Emancipation Celebration in Russellville. The annual event marks the time enslaved Americans were emanicpated. In several Kentucky and Tennessee communities it's celebrated on or around August 8. In other regions, it's known as Juneteenth.  

A few blocks from the Dunnigan statue, at the city’s urban farm, Russellville resident Nancy Dawson picked a few ripe tomatoes and said the Emancipation Celebration will begin on Thursday with a farm-to table dinner with vegetables from this community garden.

"What we’re growing right now, we’re growing fresh tomatoes, as you see here. We have eggplants. We have beans out now. We have whole bunch of purple potatoes down there," said Dawson. "We do a lot of heirloom and unique kinds of vegetables.” 

Dawson is former chair of the department of African-American studies at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. She started the urban garden in her backyard six years ago and has seen it expand to larger sites.

She said having the farm-to-table dinner to support Alice Dunnigan’s legacy is part of achieving one of her own goals.

"To help to recover the narratives, particularly of African-American women, who have been lost in history. And one of them happens to be Alice Allison Dunnigan," said Dawson. "I moved to this area about 12 years ago, and even though I was a professor of African-American studies, I had no idea who she was.” 

Dawson says there are countless forgotten woman across many racial and ethnic groups who have done extraordinary things, so it’s important to continue to bring to light accomplishments of women like Alice Dunnigan.  

“So although we are unveiling a statue in her honor, personally I wanted to do something one step further, and that is the Alice Allison Dunnigan Scholarship Fund," said Dawson. "It’s a personal thing to me because I think it’s important that we replicate the genius of these women.”

Proceeds from the farm to table dinner will support the Alice Allision Dunnigan scholarship.

Dawson said educating the public about Dunnigan’s accomplishments has a positive long-term impact. 

“So it gives people a sense of pride in their heritage, a sense of pride in their community, a sense of pride in their nation," said Dawson. "And I think right now with all the things we have going on politically that’s more important, right now, that people take pride and learn how to get past certain divisions and learn to work together and I think these things do that.”

Dawson said education about regional history creates civic pride across many generations.     

“For example, some young men came to my house to cut grass yesterday, and we was discussing and I said, 'You do know that right across the street is going to be the Alice Dunnigan statue.' You need to be a person who watches the statue and who takes pride in it, 'cause she comes from your neighborhood," said Dawson. "She worked under four United States presidents. So that’s something to be proud of, and she was proud of Western Kentucky.”

The statue was created by Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell of Prometheus Art in Lexington. 

Russellville's Emancipation Celebration includes sports, music and a Saturday parade.

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The 33rd Annual Russellville Emancipation Celebration

This is a partial list of events. More information is available on the Facebook page of the SEEK Museum.

Thursday, Aug. 1

1:30   Walking tours of Russellville African-American Heritage District

2:30   Hors d'oeuvres

3:30   Opening remarks

4:00.  Farm-to-Table Dinner  

(for information or reservations call Nancy Dawson 270-847-8726 or email efuanjd@yahoo.com )

Friday, Aug. 2

4:00   Dedication of the Alice Dunnigan statue

7:00.  Russellville blues concert

Saturday, Aug. 3

10:30  Emanicpation parade

Sunday, Aug. 4

1:00   Games & vendors