African-American reporter didn't just break stories, but barriers

Saturday is one of the year's big nights on the Washington social calendar: the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.

And this year, the correspondents' association is celebrating 100 years of covering America's presidents.

The memory of one reporter is being honored, celebrated for the pioneering work this African-American did in the face of bigotry.

Newspaper reporter Harry McAlpin asked to join the White House Correspondents' Association CBS News

He was diminutive and polite but alarmed white correspondents who covered the president in the 1940s.

Newspaper reporter Harry McAlpin had asked for a membership to the White House Correspondents' Association.

The board said no.

Reporter Harry McAlpin CBS News

So, in 1944, at the height of World War II, the National Negro Publishers Association urged President Franklin Roosevelt to overrule the board and grant McAlpin a credential.

The president did.

Before McAlpin's first Oval Office news conference, though, the association again tried to stop him, warning the room would be so crowded with him in it, he might cause a riot.

McAlpin calmly replied, "That would be a hell of a news story, and I want to be there for that."

When McAlpin shook Roosevelt's hand after being the first African-American reporter to attend a presidential news conference, the president said, "I'm glad to see you, McAlpin, and very happy to have you here."

Harry McAlpin became the first African-American reporter to attend an Oval Office news conference CBS News

McAlpin reflected on the adversity in his life on an Edward R. Murrow radio program a decade later.

"It takes a great deal of patience to accept the customs of some sections and communities," he said. "Trying to live up to my beliefs often has subjected me to both praise and criticism. How wise I have been in my choices may be known only to God."

It's taken 70 years for the correspondents' association to apologize.

At its annual dinner Saturday night, it's announcing a scholarship in McAlpin's honor.

His son will be there - at a dinner his father was never invited to attend.