A Woman to Know: Crystal Lee Sutton

I was doing something I didn't even think I could do. — Crystal Lee Sutton

(image via The New York Times)


Crystal Lee grew up in a town owned by J.P. Stevens & Company. Her parents worked at one of the company's seven mills in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Her grandparents had worked at another. And by the time she made it to 11th grade, Crystal was working at yet another, clocking in at 4 p.m. to sift towel lint and clocking out at midnight to go home to her three children.

In 1973, though, an anti-union bulletin posted at the mill invigorated her fight for something more. She copied down its racist rhetoric to share with national union organizers, even as J.P. Stevens's security tried to push her out of the building. For the next seven years, she hosted union meetings in her house, educated mill workers on labor law and shared copies of her favorite book, "What the Company Can Do For You" (the pages inside were all blank). In 1980, Crystal's town (and her life) changed forever -- J.P. Stevens & Company signed a union contract with mill workers, guaranteeing employee safety and higher wages.

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