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 a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

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

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