Digital North Carolina Blog

Digital North Carolina Blog

This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from institutions across North Carolina.

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Materials Documenting the Life of Crystal Lee Sutton, Activist and Union Organizer, Now Online

A wallet-sized card printed in blue and red text. The title states "Boycott J.P. Stevens products". The rest of the card features a list of products to boycott.

Boycott J.P. Stevens Products Card, created by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, 1980.

A large batch of materials from Crystal Lee Sutton’s personal collection have been digitized and are now available to view online. These materials were donated to Alamance Community College by Sutton herself in 2007. A big thank you to our partners at Alamance Community College for sharing these historic items with us.

Crystal Lee Sutton was a union organizer and activist, recognized as the driving force behind the unionization of J.P. Stevens plant workers in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Her story inspired the acclaimed 1979 film, Norma Rae. Items digitized in this collection give firsthand accounts leading up to that notable unionization, including a union cheer and a timeline of events recorded in several meeting recollections with J.P. Stevens management. Employed by J.P. Stevens, Sutton was fired and then rehired for her union efforts (see a handwritten discharge order here), eventually moving from job to job. Through her life, Sutton continued to promote unionizing through features in television shows, as in the documentary Woman Alive!, and speaking engagements.

Many items in this collection also speak to the film inspired by Sutton’s life, the Academy Award winning “Norma Rae”.  Records of legal action Sutton took against the film company are present, as well as a letter to Sally Field, the actress who portrayed Norma Rae.

Other notable items in this batch include: sections of a 1977 Mountain Life & Work issue on the history and union efforts of Southern textile workers; a thought-provoking program that accompanied the film Testimony: Justice vs. J.P. Stevens; several materials from Walter M. Williams High School in Burlington, N.C.; and a dictionary of teenage slang from the 1950s.

For a complete look at the materials from The Crystal Lee Sutton Collection, click here. For more information on the collection, please contact Alamance Community College by visiting their homepage, found here.


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