July 11, 2008
The textile industry was once the lifeblood of small towns like Roanoke Rapids, where Crystal Lee Sutton grew up and raised three children. At the J.P. Stevens mill where Sutton worked, she earned just $2.65 an hour toiling under poor conditions.
Then, in 1973, Sutton met a coal miner turned organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), Eli Zivkovich. Sutton knew she and her coworkers at the mill deserved better wages, a safe workplace, and respect on the job. When Zivkovich asked her to help organize the Stevens mill, Sutton dedicated herself to the task.
It was the beginning of her journey as a champion of workers’ rights and the union movement that led to victory in Roanoke Rapids, an eventual contract with J.P. Stevens after a 10-year boycott, and inspired the Hollywood blockbuster and Oscar winning film of 1979, Norma Rae.
Sutton, now 67 and living in Burlington, NC is in a new struggle for her life. Crystal has Meniginoma, a usually benign cancer that, unfortunately for her, is life threatening. Sutton disclosed her condition in a recent interview with the Burlington Times-News. “I call my cancer a journey and it is interesting to see where it goes,” she said. “It reminds you to live each day to the best you can. You are so much more appreciative of tiny things.”
After initially being denied coverage by her insurance company for life saving treatment, Sutton is now on drug and chemo therapies and has undergone two surgeries. Her husband of 30 years, Lewis Sutton, Jr is working two jobs to afford her medical care.
We encourage our readers and affiliated unions to join us by informing their membership about the struggle of the real ‘Norma Rae’ and pass motions to donate to Crystal’s medical fund. Supporting Crystal Lee Sutton is the least we can do for a woman who has done so much to advance the cause of worker’s rights and unionism right here in our own back yard.
“It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world.” –Crystal Lee Sutton
The NC State AFL-CIO will be making a contribution toward Crystal Lee Sutton’s medical care. Join us and send your donation to:
Crystal Lee Sutton Foundation
Truliant Federal Credit
P.O. Box 26000
Winston-Salem, NC 27114