Weeks after taking over Alabama newspaper that called for Klan to 'ride again,' black editor steps down

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ALABAMA (CNN) ---- An African-American woman who was named publisher and editor of the Alabama newspaper that recently urged the Ku Klux Klan to "night ride again" has stepped down, citing what she said was continuous and damaging interference by the paper's owner.

Elecia R. Dexter, who took over the troubled Democrat-Reporter of Linden last month, told CNN Saturday that she left the weekly newspaper Monday because she could no longer work with owner and former editor and publisher Goodloe Sutton. He penned a staggering editorial with the headline "The Klan Needs to Ride Again" in the February 14 edition.

Dexter said she resigned "so that her integrity and well-being can be maintained."

Attempts to reach Sutton for comment were unsuccessful.

Sutton's editorial sparked outrage around the country.

"Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again," Sutton wrote. "Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama."

Sutton then fueled the controversy further, telling the Montgomery Advertiser that he urged the white supremacist group to "clean out D.C." via lynchings. "We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them," Sutton told the newspaper.

He stressed that he wasn't calling for the hangings of all Americans, just the "socialist-communists."

"Seem like the Klan would be welcome to raid the gated communities up there," Sutton wrote in the editorial.

Beginning in the late 19th century, Klan members used night rides to terrorize blacks and their white allies with violence, including lynchings and firebombings.

When asked by the Advertiser if he recognized the Klan as a white supremacist group, Sutton compared it to the NAACP and said, "The Klan wasn't violent until they needed to be."

The fallout was immediate. US Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and others called for Sutton to resign.

The University of Southern Mississippi's School of Communication said it removed Sutton, an alumnus, from its Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame "in light of Mr. Sutton's recent and continued history of racist remarks."

Auburn University's Journalism Advisory Council also stripped Sutton of its 2009 distinguished community journalism award.

Dexter was abruptly promoted last month in a bid to steer the paper in a "new direction," the Democrat-Reporter said. The paper described its new editor and publisher as a "strategic leader with expertise in human resources, operations and change management."

But less than a month later, Dexter is out. She described a bizarre and short-lived tenure at the helm of weekly where she started as a clerk and assumed the top job despite having no journalism experience.

Sutton, she said, sent out an altered version of the February 28 issue to various media outlets that included a prominent story defending his Klan editorial and attacking the Montgomery Advertiser reporter who interviewed him. Dexter said she had to put out a press release calling the issue a falsification created without her authorization.

Dexter, in a separate news release, also accused Sutton of interfering with Thursday's edition of the paper, saying it did not reflect her "views or thoughts." She said she was stepping down and that the paper was being sold.

"The decision to accept the role of Publisher/Editor of The Democrat Reporter was an honor and I have no regrets," she wrote. "I am not discouraged, healing will come to the wonderful and loving people here."

Linden is a town of about 2,000 people in west-central Alabama. Sutton told USA Today in 2015 that The Democrat-Reporter's circulation, once more than 7,000, had fallen to about 3,000 subscribers.

The Klan piece isn't the first controversial editorial in its pages.

In October 2017, the paper published an editorial about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

"Some of the news programs are making a big to-do about black football players kneeling in the stadium," the editorial said. "That's what black folks were taught to do two hundred years ago, kneel before a white man."

A July 2016 editorial mocked President Barack Obama, calling him "the Kenyan King," and complained about the "way uncivilized tribes in Africa still run things."

In April, the paper ran a political cartoon that ridiculed Palestinians.

CNN's Doug Criss and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.