A black woman is the new editor and publisher of an Alabama newspaper after her predecessor stepped down following widespread condemnation of his Feb. 14 editorial that called for mass lynchings and of his comments that the Ku Klux Klan needed to “clean out” Washington.
When confronted, the paper’s publisher and editor, Goodloe Sutton, stood by his words, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that people who were upset could call him, write a letter or boycott the paper if they wanted. He inherited the publication, which is based in Linden, Ala., from his father in the 1980s.
On Thursday, however, Sutton had an apparent change of heart. He turned control of the Democrat-Reporter over to Elecia Dexter — an African American woman from Chicago who served as front office clerk for the newspaper, which has a circulation of about 3,000.
“Everything has been a little surreal, and there’s a lot going on,” Dexter said in an interview Saturday. “I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
“Good riddance Goodloe,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) wrote on Twitter.
Jones, who prosecuted two members of the Klan for their role in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young girls, had called Sutton’s editorial “disgusting” and demanded his resignation. “I have seen what happens when we stand by while people-especially those with influence- publish racist, hateful views,” he wrote last week.
After Sutton was replaced, Jones wrote: “His dangerous views do not represent Alabama or the small-town papers in Alabama that do great work every day. The good people of Linden deserve so much better than these racist rants and I am confident they will get it with new editor, Elecia Dexter.”
Dexter is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in speech communication, according to a news release announcing her appointment. She also received a master’s degree in human services from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago and a master’s degree in counseling from Argosy University in Virginia.
Dexter, 46, said she has worked at the paper for only six weeks and was disappointed when she saw the editorial. She has fielded phone calls, questions and emails from supporters of the newspaper who were dismayed over the editorial and negative publicity.
Dexter told The Post she had planned to leave if no change took place. She said that she and Sutton had an “open and honest” dialogue about his comments, in which he explained his decision to invoke lynchings and the KKK in the editorial.
“[He] took a group that has a lot of negativity associated to it, especially for people like me, of color,” Dexter said.
“There are different ways to communicate you wanted Washington to be cleaned up without using that particular reference,” she added.
Dexter said Sutton approached her Thursday to say he was resigning as editor and publisher. He told Dexter she could carry on the legacy of his family, which has operated the Democrat-Reporter for decades, by taking the paper in a “new direction.”
Sutton, who did not immediately return a phone call requesting comment, will maintain ownership of the Democrat-Reporter but will no longer oversee its day-to-day operations.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.), who had called for Sutton’s resignation, applauded the decision, but said the newsman’s work wasn’t yet complete.
Sewell had earlier written: “For the millions of people of color who have been terrorized by white supremacy, this kind of ‘editorializing’ about lynching is not a joke — it is a threat."
Two decades ago, Sutton was praised by his peers and discussed as a contender for the Pulitzer Prize after reporting that resulted in a sheriff being sent to federal prison on corruption charges.
News of the editorial disturbed many Democrat-Reporter’s readers, who “don’t want to be identified or defined by what he put in that paper,” Dexter said. However, longtime readers pointed out that it wasn’t the first time that the paper’s editorial page had endorsed extreme or openly racist views.
In May 2015, an editorial stated that the mayor of a city “up north” had “displayed her African heritage by not enforcing civilized law.” Another, published in June of that year, called for drug dealers, kidnappers, rapists, thieves and murderers to be hanged “on the courthouse lawn where the public can watch.”
Dexter said she did not know about the editorials before joining the paper but “started to hear little things” as she became familiar with the community. She moved to her father’s hometown of nearby Sweet Water, Ala., in December and joined the Democrat-Reporter shortly afterward.
“When that article came out, I saw what other people had seen years and years ago,” she said.
But the Feb. 14 editorial went viral and drew strong rebukes from Sutton’s peers, lawmakers and the head of the Alabama NAACP, who called for an FBI investigation. Sutton didn’t back away from his editorial, telling the Advertiser, “If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off. … We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them.”
Dexter described Linden as a small, diverse town with traditional values. Moving forward, she said, she wants to broaden the paper’s scope and begin putting its stories online to highlight the “great things happening” in the community.
She knows it will take time to repair the paper’s image and restore faith in it for those who read it. An announcement on the leadership change was sent to subscribers of the paper.
“One thing that sticks out to me as we move forward is making sure the people of this community feel this paper represents them and their views,” she said. “Family, community looking out for each other — I would like to take a personal component moving forward, so people feel like it’s their paper, which it is.”
Antonia Noori-Farzan contributed to this report.