A newspaper in a small city in Alabama that drew condemnation over an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to “ride again” has a new editor and publisher: a 46-year-old black woman.
The new editor, Elecia R. Dexter, is taking over The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper serving Linden in western Alabama, at a “pivotal time,” the newspaper said in a statement.
“You may have full confidence in her ability to handle these challenging times,” it said.
The newspaper’s longtime editor, Goodloe Sutton, who is white, stepped down this week amid widespread criticism of an editorial he wrote railing against “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats” and calling for the return of the most infamous white supremacist group in the nation’s history. In an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser, he went even further, suggesting that the Klan “go up there and clean out D.C.”
The editorial made national news. The University of Southern Mississippi and Auburn University rescinded past honors given to Mr. Sutton, and the Alabama Press Association suspended the membership of The Democrat-Reporter and censured Mr. Sutton.
The editorial also stung the community in Linden, a city of roughly 2,000 people — 59 percent white and 41 percent black — about 100 miles west of Montgomery.
On Saturday, Ms. Dexter said she had started working at the newspaper only a few weeks ago as a clerk in the front office, after moving to the nearby town of Sweet Water, Ala., where her father was born. She previously lived in Illinois and South Carolina, she said, and has a background in human resources.
After the editorial was published, she said, she and Mr. Sutton had a “very open and direct dialogue.” She was debating whether to stay in the job when he offered to turn the newspaper over to her, she said.
“People have stopped by or they saw me in the store,” she said. “Now they feel like it’s going to be a true reflection of everyone.”
“I do think this helps,” she said of her appointment.
The Democrat-Reporter, which has served Linden since 1879, had been in Mr. Sutton’s family for decades. But the newspaper, which has a circulation of a few thousand, had dwindled to what amounted to a one-man show in recent years.
The incendiary editorial was seen as further evidence of the fall of Mr. Sutton, 80, a fixture of public life in Linden who inherited the newspaper from his father and was once widely hailed, along with his wife, for exposing corruption in the local sheriff’s department in the 1990s.
More recently, Mr. Sutton has published editorials that were racially insensitive and “very hurtful,” said the mayor of Linden, Charles Moore, who is white. “He lost his wife, and all the credibility went with her,” he said. “She was a very good investigative reporter, and also a real sweet person.”
And during the widespread debate over football players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, the paper published an editorial titled “Let football boys kneel.” “That’s what black folks were taught to do two hundred years ago, kneel before a white man,” it read. “Is that it? Let them kneel!”
Mr. Sutton said on Saturday that he stepped down because of his age, not the controversy. He said he had found in Ms. Dexter a successor “who can get things done” and said he would be involved going forward only in an advisory role.
He did not apologize for the editorial about the K.K.K. “That’s what editorials are all about,” he said. “To upset people, make them take action.”
He said he had hoped the editorial would draw attention to corruption in Washington and the F.B.I., though the editorial did not mention the agency. He said he wrote it “in irony” to suggest that the “lowlife” K.K.K. investigate the F.B.I., which he said he held in even lower regard.
“Right now, I would consider them above the F.B.I. as far as being good guys,” he said, referring to the K.K.K.
Ms. Dexter said she had a fine relationship with Mr. Sutton and had learned a lot about the newspaper business from him in only a few weeks.
But, she said, she did not agree with him using his platform to write about a group that evokes fear and hurt for many people, “especially people of my color.”
“There are other ways you can talk about cleaning Washington without using that group,” she said.
Now, she said, she was working with Mr. Sutton in a transition. “He’s supportive of what I’m trying to do and he’s not trying to intervene,” she said. “It’s been a whirlwind.”