Sunday, February 04, 2007

Feb 5th 1956 Louis Lautier became the first Black admitted to membership in the National Press Club

Louis Lautier (Born unknown - Died 1962) was both a Washington correspondent for The Atlanta Daily World and Washington bureau chief of the NNPA wire service during the 1940s. For NNPA, he headed a staff of five and wrote a column called ''Capital Spotlight.'' In 1947, the NNPA and U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) successfully fought to get the Congress to integrate its House and Senate press galleries.

The NNPA wire service was relatively new at the time. The group of Negro newspaper publishers was founded only seven years earlier.

The following are excerpts from an AFRO Magazine profile on Lautier, published in April 1947. The article was written by Woody L. Taylor -

"Forty-seven years ago a little fellow came to live with Harry and Ida Lautier in New Orleans. They named him Louis Robert. Louis developed the yen to write at an early age. Shortly after graduating from Straight College Prep School, he decided to try his hand at putting his thoughts on paper
He kissed his mother and dad goodbye and struck out on his own. He got his A.B. degree from Morris Brown College and attended Howard University Law School for one year.

The Atlanta Independent gave him the first opportunity to get his journalistic spurs in 1923. When it folded, the youngster decided to be a freelance writer. By this time it had dawned on him that he had the makings of the big time.

He jumped from a small, unknown local sheet straight toward the top.

The AFRO-AMERICAN Newspapers gave him a chance to show his wares by accepting some of his material for publication. That was 24 years ago. He has been a contributor ever since.

He made contacts with other publications and soon had built up a chain throughout the country that used his material.

Publishers Organize - In 1940 publishers of Colored weeklies and one daily decided to pool their resources to obtain national news coverage of Washington.

The organization, which had named itself National Negro Publishers' Association, after experimenting for a year or so, chose Louis to head the staff.

Has Detremination - Those who know ''Louie,'' as he is best known, say he is a tough man when he gets peeved. Well, he got his ''dander'' up over the fact that only White daily press reporters were admitted to the Senate and House press galleries. Under [President] Roosevelt, the association's [NNPA's] representative was already admitted to White House press conferences.

Although he is a little man weighing a scant 135 pounds and only five feet six inches tall, Louie never lets up when there is something he wants.

He applied, in a letter to Sen. Harry Byrd (D-Va.), Then chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, on Dec. 3, 1945. The Senator promised to submit Louie's application to the committee but somehow never got around to it.

After appeals to Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.), his application was finally submitted. A letter announcing the correspondent's rejection came Jan. 25, 1946.

When Republicans got control of Congress, Louis tried again.
This time he asked Sen. C. Wayland Brooks (R-Ill.) to present the matter to the Rules Committee on Jan. 7, 1947. At the hearing [on] Mar. 4, Lautier was again rejected on the grounds that his work with the 36 [NNPA member] newspapers, mostly weeklies, was more important than his connection to The Atlanta Daily World. This put him in the weekly class [,they said,] and weeklies are not eligible for places in the daily press galleries."

The following are excerpts from an article Lautier wrote for the NNPA describing why it was necessary to have Black press representatives watching Congress. My copy is from the March 29, 1947 edition of The Afro-American -

WASHINGTON (NNPA)--"Explaining the mission of the NNPA News Service, before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration regarding my admission to the Senate Press Gallery, I remarked:

"A sub-committee of this committee hearing on amending the Senate cloture rule, involved fundamental principles of democratic government. Yet, from the viewpoint of minority citizens, they were inadequately reported by the White daily press.

"For example, I saw in no White daily any reference to the profound statement of Sen. John H. Overton, of Louisiana, that 'The Democratic South stands for White supremacy.' An effective cloture rule and the attitudes of both the Democratic and Republican parties are matters which deeply interest minority citizens."

White View Only - Another example of the type of service rendered by The Atlanta Daily World and NNPA involves an incident before the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. Clarence Mitchell, labor secretary of the NAACP, appeared before that committee recently in opposition to all pending labor legislation.

At the close of his testimony, Sen. Wayne Morse, of Oregon, rebuked representatives of labor organizations who had appeared before the committee and opposed all pending labor bills but had not offered any suggestions as to the type of legislation they thought the Congress ought to enact.

The White dailies carried Senator Morse's comment, but not the views of Mr. Mitchell. If minorities are to be intelligently informed of what is going on in the Congress, it is essential that they also get the views of representatives of Colored organizations.

Committee Coverage Easy - Instances cited involved no difficulty in coverage because committee hearings are open to all reporters, except that accredited correspondents get first consideration and if all seats at press tables are taken minority reporters may be forced to sit in the audience, as they must occupy seats in the visitors' galleries in the Senate and House......

Heavy Service Required - As to my qualifications, I represent both a daily newspaper and a wire service, some of whose members require telegraphic service. The larger weeklies, some of which publish editions daily, require telegraphic service. These include The Amsterdam News, AFRO-AMERICAN newspapers, Pittsburgh Courier, Chicago Defender, Norfolk Journal and Guide, and Kansas City Call."

Continued excerpt from an AFRO Magazine profile on Lautier, published in April 1947. The article was written by Woody L. Taylor
"However, the rejection this time crystallized enough pressure from the weekly and daily press so that the previous decision made by the Standing Committee to bar him was overruled by the Senate Rules group.

The important thing is that Louie had won his fight."

This article titled "Color Bar" appeared in TIME Magazine on Monday, Jan. 31, 1955
"In Washington, Negro newsmen have the right to sit in congressional press galleries, enjoy full press privileges at the White House and in Government offices, and have even been elected to Congress itself. But there is still one inner sanctum where Negro newsmen have never been admitted as members: the 911-member National Press Club, to which virtually all capital correspondents (and hundreds of pressagents and lobbyists) belong.* Three weeks ago Louis Lautier, 56. Washington correspondent for the National Negro Press Association and the Atlanta Daily World, decided to put the club's color bar to its first formal test. Lautier, the first Negro reporter on a daily newspaper to be admitted to the congressional press galleries (TIME. March 31, 1947), applied for club membership. The club, he reasoned, is not only a social institution but a place where newsmen come to exchange information, hear speakers at club luncheons, and meet sources. Many a newsman agreed with Lautier. and he had no trouble finding as sponsors Columnists Drew Pearson and Marquis Childs and U.P. Correspondent Lee (Breakthrough on the Color Front} Nichols.

A fortnight ago Lautier's application was tentatively approved by the club's board of governors, but the best it could do was a 6-4 vote. The board's action touched off a hot debate, and Lautier's supporters and opponents got ready for a stormy floor fight at the club's annual meeting. But four days before the meeting both factions agreed on a way to keep the fight from flaring into the open. The members agreed to "avoid discussion that might become acrimonious and unseemly" by putting Lautier's application to a secret yes or no ballot of the entire membership — the first time such a vote has ever been taken. At week's end, Lautier himself nutshelled the question: "How can I be denied membership on my color when they have people of the yellow race, and, I understand, Communists, as members from other countries? My color is against me as an American."

* Negroes are admitted to the club's big banquet hall when it is rented out to other organizations, but only two have ever ventured into the members' private dining room or Press Club bar. One, William Hastie. now a federal judge, was refused service; the other, C.I.O. Aide George Weaver, was served luncheon, but his newsman host got an anonymous letter warning him never to bring a Negro again."

Later on Monday, Feb.14,1955 TIME Magazine had this article titled "Color Bar Lifted"
"As Washington correspondent for the Atlanta World and National Negro Press Association, Louis Lautier stirred up a storm when he applied for admission to the National Press Club last month. The 911-member club had never admitted a Negro before, and the members split into two sharply divided groups over his application (TIME. Jan. 31). But Lautier's backers confidently expected the members to go along with the national trend toward desegregation and end their color bar. On the eve of the club's referendum vote. Lautier wrote a column for Washington's Negro semiweekly Afro-American, personally attacking two members of the club, George Durno of International News Service and Jerry Greene of the New York Daily News, for opposing his admission. After the column, many a middle-of-the-roader in the fight turned against Lautier, feeling that his piece was out of line and inaccurate. Nevertheless, in the largest voting turnout in the club's history, Lautier last week was admitted to the Press Club by a vote of 377 to 281."