By Sarah Mervosh
When a white newspaper editor in Alabama drew widespread condemnation for an editorial that called for the Ku Klux Klan to ride again, only to be replaced by a black woman who hoped to take the newspaper in a new direction, it seemed like a symbolic moment. The new editor and publisher, Elecia R. Dexter, said she wanted to make the newspaper, The Democrat-Reporter, more reflective of the community it serves in Linden, a small town in western Alabama that is about 59 percent white and 41 percent black. But now, after only a few weeks, Ms. Dexter has stepped down. Her departure this week, which she attributed to continuing interference from the editor she was meant to replace, complicates the future of the weekly newspaper, which was once hailed for its journalism, and reflects the thorny reality that healing from racially hurtful acts is rarely a once-and-done process. “I would have liked it to turn out a different way, but it didn’t,” Ms. Dexter, 46, said in an interview Friday. “This is a hard one because it’s sad — so much good could have come out of this.” Her predecessor, Goodloe Sutton, came under intense criticism last month after he wrote an editorial that railed against “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats” and called 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.” Though The Democrat-Reporter has a circulation of only a few thousand, the editorial landed with a thud at a time when the nation was reckoning with the hurt of politicians who had worn blackface and old yearbooks containing racist slurs. Representative Terri A. Sewell, a Democrat whose congressional district includes Linden, called on Mr. Sutton to step down, and universities quickly rescinded past journalism honors given to Mr. Sutton, who had been recognized, along with his late wife, for exposing corruption in the local sheriff’s department in the 1990s. The incendiary editorial was the latest in a series of pieces in The Democrat-Reporter in recent years that were seen as racially insensitive. An editorial in May 2015 referred repeatedly to black people as “thugs.” And in 2017, during the national debate over football players kneeling 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!” Amid the controversy last month, Mr. Sutton, 80, offered to hand the paper over to Ms. Dexter, who had been working there as an office clerk. Though she did not have journalism experience, she said she was excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the community. “People have stopped by or they saw me in the store,” she said last month. “Now they feel like it’s going to be a true reflection of everyone.” But in the weeks since, Ms. Dexter said she ran into problems with Mr. Sutton, who retained ownership of the paper, which had been in his family for decades. The U.S.-Mexico border is a daily headline. A political football. And also home to millions of people. Every week for the next few months, we'll bring you their stories, far from the tug-of-war of Washington politics. She said he emailed an altered version of the Feb. 28 issue of the paper to local news outlets and advertisers. She shared copies of both versions of the front page with The New York Times, which showed that an article about his retirement had been replaced with one defending the editorial and criticizing The Advertiser for its coverage.