Actress Sally Field (left) played the lead role in the 1979 film "Norma Rae," which was based on the the real-life struggles of Cathy Lee Sutton (right), who was a leader in the national boycott of J.P. Stevens in the 1970s. 

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Kheel Center exhibit explores labor-management conflict

A new exhibit in the ILR School tells the story of a North Carolina cotton mill worker and her pivotal role in sparking a labor-management standoff that inspired a Hollywood film.

“A More Perfect Union: Crystal Sutton and the J. P. Stevens Boycott” offers a fresh perspective on the classic 1979 film “Norma Rae” and draws materials from the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives in Catherwood Library, which is located in the ILR School and part of Cornell University Library.

The exhibit includes photos of worker protests, pamphlets urging consumers to boycott, videos of workers describing working conditions, and press releases and advertisements created by J. P. Stevens in response to negative press. It was curated by Kheel Center staff, including Steven Calco, research archivist; Marcie Farwell, the Gordon and Marjorie Osborne Textile Industry Curator; Elizabeth Parker, technical services archivist; and Riley Eren Griffin, reference and reproductions assistant.

“A More Perfect Union” runs through Dec. 23. It is part of a series of exhibits organized by Cornell University Library titled “Threads of History.”

Amira Shimin ’25 is a student writer for ILR Communications.
Read the full story on the ILR School website.

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