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04-07-06, 07:34 AM
Longtime reporter writes of career
Al Benn's new book is 'Reporter: Covering Civil Rights...And Wrongs In Dixie'

By Jim Cox

Pennyslavania native Al Benn was fresh out of the Marines and college with a journalism degree in hand when he moved to Alabama in the early 1960s.

He arrived in the state just as the nation's civil rights movement was erupting in places like Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma.

Benn started out working for United Press International. He'd cover Klu Klux Klan rallies in rural pastures one night and the next night he'd be in a black church where civil rights leaders would push their agenda for equal rights.

The jacket introduction of his new book, "Reporter: Covering Civil Rights...And Wrongs In Dixie," details his 40-year career of covering the news.

Benn would also write about Alabama politics and a variety of other issues that affected the state across four decades. Some of his best stories were features on ordinary Alabamians from small communities.

Benn lives in Selma. Most of his newspaper career was spent at The Montgomery Advertiser. He retired from full-time work there recently but continues to contribute columns and feature stories for the newspaper and he freelances for a variety of publications.

One of the chapters in his book details his search for the skinniest woman in the world-supposedly from Jackson, Alabama, according to the tabloid Weekly World News. The tiny woman supposedly weighed only 31 pounds!

"Jackson, about 70 miles south of Selma, is the home of Joe McCorquodale, former speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. It's not a big town and Joe knew everybody there. "I felt he'd know if 'Joyce-Ann' lived in his fair town or 'outside,' as the magazine claimed. Of course, 'outside' to the Weekly World News could have been Afghanistan."

McCorquodale said he didn't know the woman and didn't know anyone who did. However, he said if there was such a person the community would certainly know about her!

Benn contacted the tabloid but was told it "stood by its story."

Although there was no woman, Benn still got a story out of it.

"We all got a good laugh out of it, especially McCorquodale, who had a big smile on his face as he raised the WWN's front page showing 'Joyce-Ann' being held up by her 'cotton broker husband' who was identified as 'Junior.'"

Benn's hardback book is 388 pages of great stories. It is available for $30 by mail from the author. Call him at home, 334-875-3249 or e-mail benn8071@bellsouth.net.