Black History: Special Delivery!!
African-American journalist, Harry S. McAlpin (1906-1985) became the first African American journalist to receive White House press credentials. In 1944, he attended his first White House press conference with President Franklin Roosevelt. McAlpin was formerly a war correspondent and news reporter for the National Negro Press Association and the Atlanta Daily World. An Airforce veteran, McAlpin was also a war correspondent during World War I.
McAlpin spent his childhood years in St. Louis, Missouri and then attended the University of Wisconsin where he majored in journalism and advertising; receiving his degree in 1926. He then relocated to Washington, DC to begin his career in journalism. His first journalism role was working for the Washington Tribune, which was an African American weekly newspaper from 1926-1929. He then worked in advertising and publicity for the National Benefit Life Insurance Company from 1929-1933.
In 1933 McAlpin started employment with the New Negro Alliance helping to ensure employment opportunities for black applicants within the National Recovery Administration program. At this time McAlpin also entered Robert H. Terrell Law School in Washington; taking night classes and working for the Federal Security Agency and the U.S. Employment Service during the day. He passed the bar exam in 1937 and then went to work for Mary McLeod Bethune in the National Youth Administration (NYA) as well as the Chicago Defender as part-time news correspondent.
When the National Negro Publishers were awarded press credentials from the White House in 1943, McAlpin was hired as their full-time Washington correspondent; attending his first press conference in 1944. As he awaited entry into the oval office, McAlpin was approached by the head of the White House Press Correspondents Association who informed him that his presence was not welcomed by the other white press correspondents. The reporter informed if that if we would agree to leave, they would share all of their notes from the presidential briefing with him and make him a member of the White House Press Correspondents Association. McAlpin declined the offer and entered the Oval Office. At the conclusion of the brief, he approached President Roosevelt who shook his hand and expressed gratitude for his presence there.
McAlpin’s participation in the presidential briefing did not go unnoticed by the press and was referenced in the New York Times on February 9, 1944. In 1947 the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and several other individual African American news reporters received congressional and state department press credentials as well. Individual journalists included: James L. Hicks, Percival L. Prattis and Louis Lautier.
McAlpin left NNPA and relocated to Louisville, Kentucky to work as the only African-American assistant commonwealth attorney in the state of Kentucky. He held this position until his resignation in 1953. He tenured his resignation after being removed from a criminal prosecution case involving three white women. Kentucky prosecutors were of the opinion that McAlpin’s presence on the case did not align with gender and racial societal norms. Following his resignation, McAlpin moved into a leadership role with the NAACP’s Louisville chapter. He returned to Washington DC in 1968 working as a hearing officer for the Social Security Administration and then, once again, he went back to Louisville; returning to his law practice.
McAlpin died in 1985 days before his 79th birthday. A journalism scholarship was established in his name in 2014.