Ms. Payne went on to become known as the “first lady of the Black press,” and her coverage of the civil rights movement was so instrumental that President Lyndon B. Johnson invited her to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and gave her one of the pens he used to sign the landmark legislation.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a presidency scholar who has documented the relationship between the press and the White House for decades, said the Dunnigan-Payne lectern was a rare showing of solidarity between the White House and the press corps.
“It seems fluffy,” Ms. Kumar said, “but it isn’t.”
The naming of the lectern was inspired by the White House Correspondents’ Association creating a lifetime achievement award in honor of the two women in 2022. Ms. Kumar said the Dunnigan-Payne lectern joins others of significance, including Blue Goose, which is used for formal presidential speeches, and Toast, which is used for toasts at events like state dinners.
Judy Smith, who served as a deputy press secretary for President George H.W. Bush, and was the first Black woman to lead a White House press briefing, said the weight of the White House briefing room is felt by those who sit on both sides of the lectern.
“Speaking from the podium, addressing critical issues that affect the country, and every single word you say is taken very seriously, and sliced and parsed in so many different ways — it’s a tremendous responsibility,” Ms. Smith, who was the inspiration for the character Olivia Pope on the hit show “Scandal,” said in an interview.