Crystal Lee Sutton
|Crystal Lee Sutton|
December 31, 1940|
Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, U.S.A
|Died||September 11, 2009
Burlington, North Carolina
|Other names||Crystal Lee Pulley
Crystal Lee Jordan
|Occupation||Advocate, Union organizer|
Crystal Lee Sutton (née Pulley; December 31, 1940 – September 11, 2009), formerly known as Crystal Lee Jordan, was an American union organizer and advocate who gained fame during the early 1970s. She was fired from her job at the J.P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, for trying to unionize its employees.
Early life and career
Sutton was earning $2.65 an hour folding towels. The poor working conditions she and her fellow employees suffered compelled her to join forces with Eli Zivkovich, a union organizer, and attempt to unionize the J.P. Stevens employees. “Management and others treated me as if I had leprosy,” she stated.
She received threats and was finally fired from her job. But before she left, she took one final stand, filmed verbatim in the 1979 film Norma Rae. “I took a piece of cardboard and wrote the word UNION on it in big letters, got up on my work table, and slowly turned it around. The workers started cutting their machines off and giving me the victory sign. All of a sudden the plant was very quiet…”  Sutton was physically removed from the plant by police, but the result of her actions was staggering. The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union won the right to represent the workers at the plant on August 28, 1974. Sutton later became a paid organizer for the ACTWU. Sutton was the 13th recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in 1980. The honor was named after a 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), by Pope John XXIII, that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations.
The 1979 film Norma Rae, starring Sally Field, is based on Sutton's early union work. The movie is based on the 1975 book about her by New York Times reporter Henry "Hank" Leiferman Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance. Her papers and memorabilia are located at Alamance Community College in North Carolina, where she took classes in nursing in 1988.
Crystal Lee Pulley was born in Roanoke Rapids. She married at 19, gave birth to her first child at 20, and was widowed at 21. She had a second child out of wedlock at 22. She married Larry Jordan Jr. and had her third child at 25. Following the events that made her famous, and prior to the release of Norma Rae, she and Jordan were divorced. She married Lewis Sutton Jr. about 1977 (obituaries stated they were married 32 years).
Crystal Lee Sutton died, aged 68, at Hospice House in Burlington, North Carolina, on September 11, 2009, from meningioma, a form of brain cancer that she had been fighting for several years. She had been struggling with her health insurance company, which had delayed her treatment.
- Handgraaf, Brie (2008-06-28). "Real 'Norma Rae' has new battle involving cancer". The Times-News. Archived from the original on 2009-06-29.
- "Welcome to the Crystal Sutton Collection" Official website of Crystal Lee Sutton
- Leifermann, Henry P., (1975). Crystal Lee, A Woman of Inheritance. New York: MacMillan. ISBN 0-02-570220-3.
- Beach, Peggy (2007-08-02). "'Norma Rae' donates her papers to Alamance Community College: Alamance alum Leslie Thompson helps catalog donation" (Press release). North Carolina Community College System Public Affairs.
- Obituary New York Times, 15 September 2009.
- Obituary Los Angeles Times, 20 September 2009.
- Sturgis, Sue (2009-09-14). "Real 'Norma Rae' dies of cancer after insurer delayed treatment". Facing South (Institute for Southern Studies).
- Alamance Community College's Crystal Lee Sutton Collection
- Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance on AbeBooks
- Textile Workers Union of America postcard highlighting Sutton: (front) (back)
- Goodbye "Norma Rae" by David Macaray, CounterPunch