Arkansas-Born Civil Rights Activist Ozell Sutton Dies At 90

Dec 21, 2015

Ozell Sutton civil rights icon dead at 90.

Arkansas-born civil rights leader Ozell Sutton passed away in Atlanta on Saturday at the age of 90.

His accomplishments in Arkansas include helping to desegregate downtown Little Rock and serving as an advisor to former Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

Sutton, born in Gould, Arkansas, attended Philander Smith College in Little Rock. After graduation in 1950, he became the first African-American reporter hired by the conservative Arkansas Democrat newspaper.

There he led an effort to have blacks referred to by the same titles as whites, “Mr., Mrs., and Ms.”

“Before then, Africans-Americans hadn’t been given any titles at all,” said University of Arkansas at Little Rock Historian John Kirk.

Among Sutton’s achievements during his early years in Arkansas was a lawsuit that desegregated the cafeteria in the Capitol building after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“He was successful in winning his suit and was the first African-American to be served in the Capitol's cafeteria when it desegregated in 1965,” said Kirk.

He marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King  Jr. in Selma, in 1965 and was present at the Lorriane Motel in Memphis the night King was assassinated in 1968. 

Sutton was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps and was director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service in Atlanta until he retired in 2003.