Alabama editor who called for lynchings by Klan should quit, senators say

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Officials in Alabama are calling for a small-town newspaper editor to resign because of an editorial calling for the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize Washington, D.C.

Goodloe Sutton, the editor and publisher of the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Ala., wrote the editorial titled “Klan needs to ride again” that ran in the paper last week.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again,” read the Feb. 14 editorial. “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama. They do not understand how to eliminate expenses when money is needed in other areas. This socialist-communist idealogy [sic] sounds good to the ignorant, and uneducated, and the simple minded-people.”

“Seems like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there,” concluded Sutton. “They call them compounds now. Truly, they are the ruling class.”

Linden is a town of about 2,100 in the western part of the state, near the Mississippi border. The newspaper, a weekly that has won awards for investigative journalism, had a reported circulation of 3,000 in 2015.

Melissa Brown, a reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, spoke to Sutton Monday to confirm he had written the editorial and to clarify his comments.

“If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we’d all been better off,” Sutton told the Advertiser. When asked what he meant by “clean out,” Sutton suggested lynching, saying, “We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them.”

A Feb. 14 editorial in the Democrat-Reporter in Linden, Ala. (Photo: Chip Brownlee/Auburn Plainsman)

When the Advertiser asked whether it was appropriate to call for the lynchings of Americans, Sutton was not swayed.

“It’s not calling for the lynchings of Americans,” said Sutton, whose family has owned the newspaper since 1917. “These are socialist-communists we’re talking about. Do you know what socialism and communism is?”

When asked if he recognized the Ku Klux Klan as a violent and racist organization, the Advertiser reported that Sutton compared it to the NAACP. “A violent organization? Well, they didn’t kill but a few people,” Sutton said. “The Klan wasn’t violent until they needed to be.”

Democratic Sen. Doug Jones and Rep. Teri Sewell, whose district includes Linden, called for Sutton to step down on Monday evening.

“OMG! What rock did this guy crawl out from under?” wrote Jones on Twitter. “This editorial is absolutely disgusting & he should resign — NOW! I have seen what happens when we stand by while people — especially those with influence — publish racist, hateful views. Words matter. Actions matter. Resign now!”

“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,” wrote Sewell, who is African-American. “These comments are deeply offensive and inappropriate, especially in 2019. Mr. Sutton should apologize and resign.”

Republican Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior U.S. senator, urged Sutton to apologize and resign in a Tuesday-morning statement to Yahoo News.

“The rhetoric displayed by the Democrat-Reporter is disturbing, disgusting and entirely unacceptable,” said Shelby through a spokesperson. “I urge the newspaper to issue an apology and the publisher to resign from his duties. We cannot tolerate this sort of repulsive speech, particularly from our fourth estate.”

The Democrat-Reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the calls for a resignation. In December, the Senate passed its first-ever anti-lynching bill, making the act a federal crime. Estimates suggest that more than 4,000 Americans, most of them African-American, were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968.

Publisher Goodloe Sutton, in 1998, during a ceremony sponsored by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City. (Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

The editorial was initially noticed by Chip Brownlee and Mikayla Burns, editors at the Auburn Plainsman. Brownlee, a student at Auburn University and editor-in-chief of the school paper, told Yahoo News that the college had unsubscribed from the Democrat-Reporter years ago but still received delayed editions of the paper. According to Brownlee, the papers were used as negative examples for racist, sexist and homophobic content.

“After we found this editorial I went back and went through some of the archives of the Democrat-Reporter and this is not a one-off event,” said Brownlee. “This is something that happened numerous times over several years, and it’s picked up over the last few years as far as I can tell.”

Sutton began working at the paper in 1964 along with his wife, Jean. In the 1990s they earned several journalism awards for their investigation into corruption at the Marengo County Sheriff’s Department, which eventually led to the sheriff’s pleading guilty to extorting money from a bail bondsman. According to the Congressional Record, Sutton earned praise from then-Rep. Earl Hilliard, who described the newspaperman as a “fearless man of letters.” Jean Sutton died in 2003.

This story has been updated to include comment from Sen. Richard Shelby.