‘Where she belongs’: Alice Dunnigan statue now in permanent Russellville location

Members of Alice Allison Dunnigan’s family look up at her newly unveiled statue at the dedication ceremony on Friday, August 2, 2019, in Russellville, Kentucky. 

Bailey Vandiver

“You’ve come a long way, sister.” 

In her 1974 autobiography, Alice Allison Dunnigan wrote these words to herself, reminiscing on her journey from a small classroom in Kentucky to covering Capitol Hill as a journalist. 

More than 30 years after her death, a bronze statue of Dunnigan has come a long way, too— and now it’s come home to Russellville, Kentucky. 

The statue was made by Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell of Prometheus Art in Lexington. From Lexington, the statue traveled to Washington, D.C., where it stood in the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue for much of fall 2018. 

In 2019, the statue spent time at the University of Kentucky, then once again left the Bluegrass to stand in the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. 

Kentucky State University, Dunnigan’s alma mater, was the statue’s lost stop before coming to its permanent home in Russellville, where Dunnigan was born in 1906. 

On August 2, the SEEK Museum hosted a dedication ceremony and unveiled the statue at the corner of Morgan and 6th Streets. 

It was like a homecoming, with hundreds of people in attendance— many from Russellville and many who traveled from elsewhere in the state and country. 

Victoria Marshall, Dunnigan’s great-niece, said during the ceremony that “it’s always great to come home.” 

Marshall was born in Russellville but left to attend Western Kentucky University. She now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Her great-aunt left Kentucky in the early 1940s for Washington, D.C., but she still loved Kentucky. And now Dunnigan is back, in a way, in the Bottom— a nickname for the historic African American community in Russellville. 

Marshall said the outpouring of love and support couldn’t have happened just anywhere— “it’s Russellville,” she said. 

J. Gran Clark is a Russellville attorney who first had the idea to honor Dunnigan. About four or five years ago, he reached out to sculptor Amanda Matthews about her creating something to commemorate the Russellville native. 

He said Friday that he really hadn’t thought ahead to this moment when he reached out to Matthews, but he said it “makes [his] heart feel good” to see how much of Russellville showed up to celebrate Dunnigan. 

He said they were very fortunate that the statue went to the Newseum. 

“That created such a wonderful avalanche of press, and ever since then, it’s just taken on a life of its own,” Clark said. 

He hopes to build on this momentum by implementing Dunnigan into classroom curriculum and telling the story of slavery and emancipation in Kentucky. 

This dedication ceremony coincided with the Emancipation Celebration that comes around August 8 each year, commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Logan County. 

Matthews, who completed the statue last fall with her husband and business partner Brad Connell, said she will miss the statue of Dunnigan because she’s been her “traveling companion.”

But “this is where she belongs,” Matthews said. She said it’s wonderful for the city of Russellville to honor Dunnigan and “to show the nation that you can come from anywhere and be anything and still have love for where you come from.” 

This is the first time that Dunnigan will be displayed outside, but Connell said bronze is very durable. He said they tell their clients that bronze is good for about 10,000 years— and if anything goes wrong after a couple thousand, they’ll take care of it. 

When it came time to unveil the statue, about 30 of Dunnigan’s family members crowded around it. Two of Dunnigan’s granddaughters pulled the sheet down, and everyone in attendance cheered. 

A few minutes before, the program had concluded with another of Dunnigan’s great-nieces, Penny Allison Lockhart, who directed everyone to the statue to uncover it. 

“We won’t have to cover it up again,” she said. 

Read more about Dunnigan: 

Iconic: After a lifetime of breaking barriers, Alice Dunnigan is memorialized in bronze 

Statue of Kentucky journalist Alice Dunnigan unveiled at Newseum 

Dunnigan statue ‘home’ in Kentucky; at UK till Feb. 9

Event at UK celebrates, aims to ‘resurrect’ story of Alice Dunnigan