As It Happens

Black colleague replaces Ala. newspaper editor who called for KKK to 'ride again'

The editor of an Alabama newspaper who wrote an editorial urging the Ku Klux Klan to ride again has handed over the weekly paper to Elecia Dexter — a black woman who has been working as the front office clerk for the past six weeks.

Former clerk Elecia Dexter hopes to turn the Democrat-Reporter in 'a positive direction'

Elecia Dexter is the newly-appointed editor of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Alabama. And that's where we reached her. (Elecia Dexter/LinkedIn)
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Readers of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Ala., were outraged when the paper recently published an editorial calling on the Ku Klux Klan to "ride again."

Elecia Dexter heard about it. The racist editorial made headlines around the world — and Dexter worked in the front office of the weekly paper, fielding complaints.

Dexter, who is black, was outraged too. She was ready to tell her boss Goodloe Sutton, who wrote the editorial, that she was quitting.

Instead, she walked away from their conversation with a new job title — editor and publisher.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Dexter about why she decided to take the job and continue working for Sutton, who will remain the paper's owner.

Here is part of their conversation.

Elecia, what was your first reaction when your boss offered you his job?

I was very shocked, to say the least. I had prepared to let him know that I'm going to finish up these loose ends and I'm not going to be able to stay here based upon the things that were in the paper.

In the midst of us having our morning discussion, that's when he informed me. And so, I did kind of say, "Huh?"

He said that he wanted me to take over. I could have free rein to do what I thought was needed with the paper. He would not be involved.

I was very taken back, seeing that he and I have only been working together now six to eight weeks.

Goodloe Sutton, publisher of the Democrat-Reporter newspaper, advocated for a revival of the Ku Klux Klan in a newspaper editorial. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser/Associated Press)

To help people understand, why did Goodloe Sutton step down and hand over the controls to you?

He felt that I could take the paper into a new direction and he felt that I could help bring subscribers back.

I was very taken aback because if you would just look at the words that were used in the article, that would not necessarily have been my logical conclusion on him choosing me.

You are an African-American. And the editorial that got him into this trouble — he wrote an editorial that said, "Time For The Ku Klux Klan to night right again and go to Washington" [and] "seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there." What did he say to you about this editorial? Did he apologize? Did he say that he was wrong?

Mr. Sutton, for good or for not, is a straight shooter. If he says it, he believes it, and he's not going to back down on what he said.

In our discussion, we talked about how I'm in total disagreement with that thought. And what I tried to relate to him was that I think you may have a perception of this group and maybe that's your personal experience. I can't take that from you.

But, whether you want to believe it or not, historically that group is attached to a lot of hatred. 

So, using that group to use this as an example of how Washington can clean up, I said, "You have to understand the impact for people who have been impacted by that group negatively — and people of my skin colour have."

That you had to actually explain all this is surprising. But then did he understand what you were saying? 

He understood what I was saying. But I would not say I changed his thought process about it. But he understood that we have to agree to disagree.

He has since been interviewed by [the Montgomery Advertiser] that asked him about his remarks and he repeated it all. He said, "If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we'd be better off. ... We'll get out the hemp ropes, loop them over a tall limb, and hang all of them." I mean, did he say this after you explained to him how hurtful this was?"

He didn't say it to me. But I know that he is a person that stands by what he says and if that's what he feels, and that's what he thinks, he's going to stick with it.

But Elecia, how can you work for him? This is a family paper. It's been in his family for decades. He wants the paper to continue, but he knows he can't sit in that chair anymore because of the reaction he's had. Why would you help him?

What I thought about was my dad's side of the family is from this area. I thought about some of the people that have talked to me with concerns of how this community has been portrayed historically.

So, I looked at it, and said: Do I let the things that occurred define [this]? And then there's no healing with this community and the surrounding community.

I felt it was a way that I could take a platform, turn it in a positive direction, build a rapport, hopefully, and trust in this community so that I can reflect what is important to them. What is important to them is their families. They look out for one another. 

Hopefully, the community will be proud of the paper and feel like it's everybody's paper. I've been given an opportunity to change the outcome from that article.

Written by Kate Swoger and John McGill. Q&A has been edited by length and clarity.