In 1948, Black journalist Alice Dunnigan put the first of many accomplishments under her belt when she became the first Black female reporter to join the White House press pool and the first Black reporter to go on a campaign trip with a president. Doubted by many reporters due to her gender and race, Dunnigan had to fight for even a smidgeon of the recognition that her male journalist colleagues got, though it never stopped her from doing what she loved.
One of just two Black women in the White House Press Corps during the 1950s and 1960s, Ethel Payne repeatedly demonstrated her determination to deliver the truth to her readers -- informed by her experience. Responding the criticism that she should be more objective, Payne responded, “I stick to my firm, unshakeable belief that the black press is an advocacy press, and that I, as a part of that press, can’t afford the luxury of being unbiased…when it comes to issues that really affect my people, and I plead guilty, because I think that I am an instrument of change.”
After World War II, Southwest Washington, DC, underwent a bout of complete urban renewal to clean up the blighted neighborhood. But was it worth it? New buildings went up, but a community was torn apart, economic segregation ensued and the project failed to deliver on many of the promises that were made.
By the late 1950s, Shirley Horn had performed all up and down the U Street corridor a countless number of times, but her show at the Howard Theatre one October night in 1958 was particularly memorable for her. The jazz pianist and singer happened to be in the ninth month of her pregnancy at the time and was expecting the baby to be due any day.
In 1933, eleven words made Minnie Keyes a wealthy woman. They were scrawled on a blank telegram slip, tied to a pencil with an elastic band, and stuffed under a mattress. “Minnie Keyes: You have been good to me. All is yours.” These sentences were the final will and testament of Leonard A. Hamilton, who had lived as a boarder at Keyes’ home for 30 years. Once a court accepted the scrap as legitimate, Keyes inherited Hamilton’s $100,000 estate, about $2.1 million in today’s money. Most of its value lay in real estate: dozens of homes scattered across Washington. The properties Minnie Keyes came to own, however, were not the city’s best. And what should happen to them became the source of great debate.
The history of school desegregation in the District is rooted in civil disobedience. The story is one of a grassroots organization of parents that challenged the institution of legalized segregation to guarantee better schools for their children. Throughout the seven-year struggle, the activists were supported by the District's Black churches, and their mission was grounded in the principles of faith and social justice.
April 26, 1954, wasn’t an ordinary day at work for Dr. Richard Mulvaney. As McLean, Virginia’s first general practitioner, he treated all types of patients, but he’d never dealt with a situation like the one that awaited him at Franklin Sherman Elementary School that morning.
On April 9, 1959, the year-old National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) held a press conference to introduce the first ever American astronauts to the world. The seven military test pilots chosen to make up “The Mercury 7” sat lined at a table in the ballroom of the first NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as press and public looked on. Although the introduction of astronauts into American culture was historic in itself, the building in which it took place carried a legacy that predated NASA by nearly 140 years. Namely, the building that NASA acquired as its first residence in the District was the longtime home of the lively and revered first lady, Dolley Madison.
You might be familiar with the Red Scare, Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to remove suspected communists from the U.S. State Department. But what about the Lavender Scare? Starting in the 1940s, government officials began firing thousands of employees based on their sexual orientation. Frank Kameny, a Harvard-educated astronomer was one of them. He lost his job in 1957 and challenged the dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court.
A little before 2pm on November 1, 1950, President Truman laid down for a quick nap at Blair House, the temporary residence of the first family while the White House was undergoing renovations. Across town, taxi driver John Gavounas had just picked up two men at North Capitol St. and Massachusetts Ave. The men instructed him to take them to 17th and Pennsylvania Ave. and then spent the ride talking to each other in Spanish. The only word that Gavounas recognized was “Truman.” Moments later, the sidewalk erupted in gunfire.