Timeline

1945

April 14th, 1945

White House Correspondents’ Association Denies Black Reporter Access to FDR Funeral

On April 14, 1945, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) tried to exclude Harry McAlpin, the only African American White House correspondent, from observing a funeral service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House. Two of twelve spots held for news and radio reporters had been reserved for African American newspaper representatives, but on the morning of the funeral, the WHCA instead gave those spots to two additional white reporters, asserting that the association did not represent black journalists. Over WHCA’s objection, the White House allowed Mr. McAlpin to cover the funeral service.

Racial discrimination in journalistic access to political events was common during this era. Denied admission into the press briefing room or other locations, African American reporters were forced to rely on second-hand information to report to their readership what was happening in Washington. Ordinarily, a reporter’s application for the credentials necessary to attend White House press conferences required approval by WHCA. The Congressional Standing Committee was responsible for granting reporters access to the House and Senate press galleries. Through the mid-twentieth century, both WHCA and the Congressional Standing Committee refused to grant access to any African American reporters.

To circumvent this discrimination during his administration, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered White House press credentials issued to African American reporter Harry McAlpin, and on February 8, 1944, McAlpin became the first African American reporter to attend a press conference in the Oval Office. Notwithstanding this gesture, by the time of President Roosevelt’s funeral, WHCA continued to deny membership to McAlpin and the Congressional Standing Committee still had not granted any African Americans access to the House or Senate press galleries.

1906

April 14th, 1906

Horace Duncan and Fred Coker Lynched in Springfield, Illinois

Two innocent African American men, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker, were accused of sexual assault in April 1906 in Springfield, Missouri. Whites’ fears of interracial sex extended to any action by a black man that could be interpreted as seeking or desiring contact with a white woman, and whites’ allegations against black people were rarely subject to scrutiny during this era. Local publications agitated racist sentiments by blaming rising crime in Springfield on black residents.

Though both men had alibis confirmed by their employers, a mob refused to wait for a trial. On the night of April 14th, the mob used sledgehammers, telephone poles, and other tools of demolition to gain entry into the men's jail cells. Just before midnight, the mob hanged Mr. Duncan and Mr. Coker, forcing them to jump from the goddess of liberty statue atop the courthouse with ropes around their necks. Then, there in the town square, the mob burned the men’s bodies and riddled their corpses with bullets before a crowd of 5000 white spectators. Newspapers later reported that both men were innocent of the rape allegation.