I once worked for Goodloe Sutton.
This is the Linden newspaper publisher who caused outrage this week with his editorial “Klan Needs to Ride Again,” proposing the use of the Ku Klux Klan to be used against Democrats and “Democrats in the Republican Party” and said all sorts of racist, senseless things, not only in the editorial but in an interview afterward. It is not worth repeating here.
For years, Goodloe has written strong, sometimes outrageous editorials in his newspaper, the Democrat-Reporter, sometimes hitting the mark against politicians who needed attacking. He was honored nationwide 20 years ago for taking on a crooked sheriff, certainly the highlight of his career. Sometimes, however, he could really have some meandering, off-the-mark comments. Examples have been pulled up in recent years where his remarks were clearly racist or inappropriate, or both. Many of his comments made me sick and should be condemned by society.
People who know me know I worked for Goodloe 30 years ago for about two years at a struggling Livingston paper he owned and printed in Linden. When we parted, it was not the best of partings; some of us were not getting paid, to be frank about it, and I wasn't the only one to leave. There are many Goodloe Sutton stories within the industry, and they have circulated for years.
I think friends who know the backstory are waiting for me to tell the whole backstory. Certainly, he could be vexing at the time. Even 30 years ago, the citizens and readers were divided about him, many always wanting his comeuppance. But truthfully, that was all long ago. I hold nothing against him from my past; I let go of that a long time ago.
As the decades have passed, I do know he gave me a job when I was needing one. I also know that it afforded me a chance to learn about the Black Belt, and meet several of the closest friends I have, some of whom I just revisited recently. I learned of the hazardous waste dump in Emelle, Livingston University (now the University of West Alabama), Campus Outreach, and became familiar with Demopolis and Meridian, Miss. And the two years of newspapers I worked on then were saved, and have just recently been accepted by the state Department of Archives and History to be preserved in my collection.
While working there, I saw Jesse Jackson speak up close, and heard “We Shall Overcome” at the Jackson rally sung so effectively that today it strikes me almost as a hymn. I learned more of racial injustice and the futility there of obviously white private schools in that area draining from public schools, and of how young people of all races had left town, leaving old blacks and old whites to point fingers and relive old wars.
If it were not for Goodloe, I would not have had any of that.
Goodloe had his good moments. He once told me one should make as good an informed decision as one can make, and then stick by it. I have recalled that many times. I recall his deeply thick Southern accent at times as well. And he did allow me much leeway to try to do my own thing in Livingston (although his small word count requirement on a lead paragraph gave this New York Times-style reporter fits).
I was sorry to hear his wife died, and sorry still to learn his newspaper decreased to maybe 3,000 subscribers. That large Butler building the newspaper was housed in shrunk to a little house. I’m sure that hurt.
Then came this week - the editorial, the statements afterward, and also the old editorials dug up. A friend in the industry noted to me, "All it took was a college newspaper to note the issue, and the world paid attention." He noted the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics says, "Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations." In this case, journalists also called out problems in their own ranks, so it is not just the politicians and the actors and such. We do call out those in our ranks who are wrong.
And in this case, Goodloe could not be more wrong.
One in 2019 cannot support such writings, can’t possibly defend them. I can’t. I won't.
The Alabama Press Association has censured him and suspended the association membership of the Democrat-Reporter. Universities are recalling back awards. Many public figures are calling for his resignation as the New York Times and others do national pieces. Of course, I don’t know who would take his place; it might be more a matter of selling the paper, but something needs to happen.
And then there is this from a former employee of his, Kyle Whitmire, whose online column on AL.com noted friends in the area “had wondered whether Goodloe, who’s almost 80 now, was suffering from dementia, alcoholism or both.” As I’ve said, there have been repeated writings in the paper that have been perceived as racist. I have to condemn those writings and say he has to go - but I also wonder if the problem could be made worse by other means. And if that is true, how much do you criticize?
Then again, none of that may be the case. It may be just Goodloe being Goodloe. It is hard to tell. Certainly, ideas that he spouts probably were always there. Such ideas are not far from the surface among many whites in that area, at least in the 1980s. Hopefully, the times there have improved. Goodloe, sadly, did not.
So I condemn what he wrote and hope he retires. But I can’t feel anger, just regret that his career will end like this. But I also recall the character of George Amberson Minafer, and what was said about him in “The Magnificent Ambersons”: "Something had happened, a thing which years ago had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town. And now it came at last: George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He'd got it three times filled and running over.”
Oddly enough, in my 50s now, it was not my eagerest hope. I just feel sad. Very sad, for Goodloe Sutton, for journalism and the State of Alabama.
Ed Howell is the Daily Mountain Eagle's news editor.