R.I.P. Crystal Lee Sutton


While I and the rest of the world mourn the death of Patrick Swayze, I hope the death of another amazing and important figure in American history doesn’t slip through the cracks. Today the AP is reporting the death of Crystal Lee Sutton, labor organizer and activist for the working class, whose story of fighting to unionize textile plants in the South was depicted in the film “Norma Rae.”
From the AP:

In 1973, Sutton was a 33-year-old mother of three earning $2.65 an hour folding towels at J.P. Stevens when a manager fired her for pro-union activity.
In a final act of defiance before police hauled her out, Sutton, who had worked at the plant for 16 years, wrote “UNION” on a piece of cardboard and climbed onto a table on the plant floor. Other employees responded by shutting down their machines.

Even though Sally Field won a best-actress Academy Award for playing the character inspired by Ms. Sutton, the AP reports today that she never made much profit off the movie. I wonder if that was because the film execs didn’t give her her fair due, or because she was too much “of the people” to get rich from the story. Or some other unknown reason.
Either way, she is completely bad-ass and her work is inspirational to me. As a female labor organizer in the 70’s fighting against low pay and poor working conditions for “ordinary people,” both black and white, she was certainly a trailblazer.
May she rest in peace.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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