In honor of Black History Month, The LAMP dedicates February’s Gaslight to African American pioneers in news media.
February 3, 1947: Percival Prattis becomes the first African American news correspondent admitted to the press galleries of both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition to his work as a journalist, Prattis was a civil rights leader working to advance the African American press. A veteran of World War I, Prattis joined the Pittsburgh Courier in 1935, became editor in 1956 and retired in 1962. He has been noted for his ability to unify black newsmen behind the fight against discrimination of African Americans in the press, particularly in the years around World War II. Prattis’ ability to directly observe Congress allowed him to report on government proceedings with firsthand knowledge of events, and he could apply his unique perspective as an African American veteran and leader of the early movement for civil rights.
February 8, 1944: Before Percival Prattis integrated the Congressional news galleries, Harry S. McAlpin integrated the Washington press corps when he became the first African American admitted to a White House press conference. McAlpin was advised against going to the press conference by Paul Wooten, reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and President of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA). Wooten informed McAlpin that he was not welcome in the press conference, that he would be given the notes taken by others in attendance for use in his reporting, and was told he could join the WHCA if he agreed to stay out of the press conferences. However, McAlpin attended the conference in the Oval Office anyway, and made a point of stopping by President Roosevelt’s desk. The President shook his hand and said, “I’m glad to see you McAlpin, and very happy to have you here.”
February 13, 1908: This is the birthday of Malvin R. Goode, who became the first African American television news correspondent for ABC in 1962. It happened that the lead ABC correspondent was on vacation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Goode was called upon to report in his absence. His 1995 obituary in the New York Times notes that Mal Goode was recommended to the position by his friend Jackie Robinson, and anchor Peter Jennings considered him a mentor. Before going on television, Goode worked at the Pittsburgh Courier while Percival Prattis was there, and continued the fight for civil rights long after his retirement from ABC in 1973.