And that was that. After more than a decade of arguments and lobbying and resistance, an African-American reporter would attend a presidential press conference for the first time only three days later. The man making history would be Harry McAlpin. But as he would quickly learn, just because the president of the United States had invited him did not mean the white correspondents would welcome him.
He found that out when he was summoned on Monday—the day before the scheduled press conference and the day he received his White House credentials—to the office of Paul Wooton, the president of the Correspondents' Association. A Washington reporter since 1911, Wooton was a longtime champion of keeping the press corps all-white. McAlpin's unpublished memoir, which he shared with Washburn, describes his exchange with Wooton, who was a reporter for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans:
"Harry, you have been accredited as a White House correspondent by President Roosevelt and there is nothing we can do about that. But I asked you to come in because I believed we could arrive at some agreement in connection with your attending the president's press conference. We are anxious to cooperate with you in every way possible.
"Now, I suggest that when you come down tomorrow, you sit out in the reception hall. One of us regular correspondents will be glad to tell you what went on in the conference as soon as it is over. And, of course, if you have any question you would like to have asked, if you would let one of us know about it, we'd ask it for you and as soon as the conference is over, we'd let you know what answer the president gave.
"Now the reason I made these suggestions is because there is always a large crowd at the conferences. They gang up to the corridor leading to the president's office, and when the signal is given to enter, there is a grand rush. It's possible that you might step on someone's foot in the rush … and there would be a riot right in the White House."
While I was seething inside, I listened with an outward calmness to this suggestion. Then I said: "I'm somewhat surprised at what you have said, Paul (it was probably the first time he had ever been addressed by a Negro using his first name). I have always had the impression that the men who reached the pinnacle of the reporting profession by becoming White House correspondents were the cream of the crop of journalism. I'd be surprised if any of them should start a riot in the White House because someone inadvertently stepped on his foot, but if they did it would be one of the biggest stories of the year and I'll be damned if I'd want to miss it. Thanks for the suggestion, but I'll take my chances. I'll be going in to get my own stories and to ask my questions myself." …
As I left his office, I said to myself, "Well, they're still at it. White folks won't let me forget [that I'm black]!"
The next morning, McAlpin was at the White House. But the slights continued. While it was standard practice for the president of the WHCA to introduce newcomers to the president, Wooton did not introduce McAlpin. Not that Roosevelt needed someone else to tell him that, for the first time, a black reporter was in the room. When the session ended, McAlpin later recalled, Roosevelt "smiled warmly, stuck out his hand, and said, 'I'm glad to see you, McAlpin, and very happy to have you here.'" McAlpin later wrote in a column that the president "put me entirely at ease with his magnetic personality with that brief but warm greeting."