Black History Month FEMMEnomenal Spotlight: Alice Allison Dunnigan

By Amy Joseph Landon

Photo Credit: Kentucky Human Rights Commission

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Artist in Residence Program and Kentucky Women’s Suffrage Centennial in 2020, Bernheim presents FEMMEnomenal Bluegrass Botanicals by Gabriella Boros. This exhibition celebrates the extraordinary achievements of 10 Kentucky women through the invocation of 10 native Kentucky plants.

Meet Alice Allison Dunnigan
Logan County, KY,  1906-1983

Alice Allison Dunnigan was an internationally known journalist, civil rights activist, teacher and author. Born to a tenant farmer and laundress, Alice rose to a full-time position as a journalist for Lyndon Johnson’s administration, in the face of much racism.

As a teenager attending the local segregated school, Dunnigan began writing short reports for the black newspaper in Owensboro. She graduated from Kentucky State University despite being allowed only ten years of education. As a teacher, she created fact sheets of historical contributions by Black Americans for her students and later published as a book entitled The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians. While teaching at segregated schools in Kentucky, she still worked for local white families to make ends meet.

In 1936, Alice began freelancing for the American Negro Press, eventually writing for the famous Chicago Defender and was the first Black American to gain a Congressional Press Pass. While in Washington, she took writing classes at Howard University and eventually gained a White House Press Pass.

Dunnigan joined Truman’s weekly conversation with reporters, and she was part of the press pool that accompanied the president on his whistle-stop train tour during his 1948 re-election campaign. She also challenged the president on segregation. After Truman issued the executive order to desegregate the military, Dunnigan asked the president when he would integrate military schools around the nation. This led Truman to open military schools to black service members, setting the stage for larger integration efforts to come.

Even as a respected member of the press, Dunnigan still faced racism and racial indignities in the white world of Washington politics. Dunnigan’s perseverance and professionalism in the face of these challenges continues to provide a good role model for young journalists today.

In the 1960s Dunnigan left journalism to work in the administrations of President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson, working as one of the Black leaders that LBJ asked to travel the nation after passage of the Civil Rights Act to see if American businesses were obeying the law.

FEMMEnomenal Bluegrass Botanicals celebrates the collective value women have had on our history, and much like the native plants in Kentucky, despite all the challenges, are still here, standing tall and beautiful, each in their own way.

Alice is represented by the rare Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) which has speckled wintergreen leaves throughout the winter. The beautiful flowers struggle to emerge in the spring as much as Alice struggled to be heard in her life.

While in residence at Bernheim, Boros created a series of woodblock prints that celebrate ten notable Kentucky women. The prints, enlarged into fabric hangings, are suspended from trees along Lake Nevin Loop.


*Additional information for this post courtesy of Kentucky Educational Television’s CONNECTIONS. Reporting by John Gregory.

Our Newsletter

Sign up for the Bernheim Buzz

Get the "buzz" of Bernheim activity weekly in your inbox by signing up below.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.