LHF Salutes Crystal Lee Sutton, The Real Norma Rae

Crystal Lee Sutton,  the real life labor organizer upon whom the 1979 movie Norma Rae was based passed away on September 16th after a battle with brain cancer.  Sutton was survived by her husband Lewis Preston Sutton Jr, five children, five grandchildren and three great- grandchildren.

In 1973 Ms. Sutton was earning $2.65 working in a textile mill in North Carolina, when she decided to take on the bosses.  She worked to organize that mill with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile workers union, and was fired for her union activity.  The police hauled her off the factory floor, but not before she wrote “UNION” on a piece of cardboard, climbed on to a table and slowly rotated so her fellow workers could see her protest.

In 1974, the union won the right to represent the workers at that mill, and Ms. Sutton was given her job back.  She worked there for two more days, just to prove a point, before becoming a fulltime organizer for the union.

See a clip of Sallie Field in her Oscar winning performance of Norma Rae:


Buy a copy of this terrific labor film at the LHF store.

Read Sutton’s obituary in the Washinton Post.

Learn more about Sutton’s life and legacy.