Maya Boddie | Local & World Editor
Civil rights activist Ozell Sutton died “peacefully” at St. Joseph Hospital in Atlanta Saturday.
Sutton, who celebrated his 90th birthday a week ago, marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965, and was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps.
Not only did Sutton march for equal rights with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., according to The Associated Press, Sutton was also staying in the Lorraine Motel three years later in Memphis, Tenn., where King was assassinated in 1968.
Odell Sutton participated in may civil rights acts throughout the south during the 1950s and 60s. According to The Arkansas Times, a biography of Sutton at the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame writes that he served as a “decoy” to distract the mob when nine black students attempted to desegregate Central High School in 1957.
An Arkansas native and Philander Smith College graduate, Ozell Sutton received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for his work in the United States Marine Corps. He was the director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service in Atlanta until his retirement in 2003.
Soon after graduating from Philander Smith, Sutton became the first black reporter to work for a white-owned newspaper in the state when he was hired by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in 1950. There at the newspaper, Sutton fought for certain equalities such as titles. He wanted black men and women to be referred to as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” just as white were.
According to The Root, Alta Sutton, daughter of Ozell Sutton told the news service that her father was the 26th general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and also worked as director of the Governor’s Council on Human Resources for then-Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.
Great-grandaughter to Ozell Sutton, Briana Martin, a freshman computer science major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, says Sutton was a “really wise, hard-working, positive and funny man who will be remembered as an incredible father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend.