Benn meets fans in Camellia City

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2006

A well-known veteran journalist visited the Greenville-Butler County Public Library on Wednesday to meet his fans and sign copies of his new autobiography, &#8220Reporter: Civil Rights…and Wrongs in Dixie.”

Pennsylvania native Alvin Benn and his wife, Sharon, have been touring the central and south Alabama area in past weeks to promote the book, which covers Benn's four-plus decades in journalism.

Starting out as a UPI correspondent, in the mid-'60s, the Montgomery Advertiser reporter moved on to work for several newspapers in Mississippi and Alabama.

During his visit to the Camellia City, Benn had the chance to chat with some of those he had previously profiled in articles, including Greenvillians Colin &#8220Big C” McGuire, &#8220Miss” Bobbie Gamble and Just Julie's owner, Julie Aturey.

When McGuire asked the semi-retired reporter why he chose to go into the newspaper business,

&#8220I couldn't get into college – so I decided I might as well become a journalist,” Benn said with a laugh.

The self-deprecating writer has, in fact, covered some very controversial stories during his long career. During his days as a UPI correspondent in the 1960s,, Benn covered the death of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Her murder trial was prosecuted by one of Greenville's own, Arthur Gamble.

&#8220(Gamble) became one of Alabama's best circuit judges. He was a no-nonsense prosecutor and just as demanding as a judge,” Benn said.

Mary Ann Hamilton of Greenville already had a copy of the book but purchased a second copy to share with family members.

&#8220I'm a native of Linden, and when I heard Alvin's book opened at a Klu Klux Klan rally at Chickasaw State Park in Linden – well, I had to have a copy, so I had a bookstore special order it,…that rally was a part of the history of my community I didn't know anything about,” Hamilton told Benn.

While many changes have taken place in the newspaper business over the years, the veteran reporter sees small town papers as an integral part of the community.

&#8220Big city newspapers have had some serious circulation problems in the past decade, but I believe local newspapers will continue to thrive,” Benn said.

&#8220Papers like the Advocate play an important role …from obituaries to high school sports, from country correspondents to city council meetings, from cherished family recipes to a kid holding up a big rattlesnake he just shot.”