Ozell Sutton, a longtime civil rights activist who was associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has died, his daughter said Sunday. He was 90.
Alta Sutton told The Associated Press that her father died at Saint Joseph Hospital in Atlanta on Saturday. She said the family had celebrated his birthday nearly a week ago.
She said her father ”went peacefully.”
”He was a wonderful husband and father,” she said. ”They don’t make daddies like him. He was a gem, a rare pearl. He was such a tremendous force. He lived a great life.”
Ozell Sutton marched for equal rights alongside King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and was present at the Memphis hotel where King was assassinated in 1968.
In 2012, Ozell Sutton earned a Congressional Gold Medal as one of the first African-Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corp. He was also director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service in Atlanta until he retired in 2003.
Ozell Sutton also served as the general president of the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. He worked for worked for Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and as the director of the Governor’s Council on Human Resources. He was a journalist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
He also played a role in helping enroll nine African-American students at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. After the black students were confronted by an angry mob outside the school protesting integration, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the U.S. Army the next day to escort the students into the school in an important test of implementing the U.S. Supreme Court banning racial segregation of public schools.
Alta Sutton said her father was a gregarious character who was a musician and physics major.
”It’s seems like the longer you have them, the harder it is to let them go,” she said of her father. ”He’s run the race and he has served.”