Black History Spotlight: St. Elmore & Queen Ester Sutton
“We were shopping for a coat for our son one day, the first little coat we had bought for him and we were excited to get it. We found the coat and were standing in the checkout line with several others. The checkout lady looked at us hard and then began taking those in front and behind us to check them out leaving us until last and not even acknowledging our presence. We finally asked if she was going to acknowledge us and check us out and she did so but grudgingly. That was our first real experience with discrimination,” states Queen Sutton. “We were really shocked that she would overlook us like that.”
St. Elmore and Queen Sutton both grew up in this area in close-knit communities of Jeff Davis and Lawrence counties where black and white drank from the same well and were friends and neighbors. Though there were the “white only” and “black only” signs in the 1950s the two were sheltered by loving families, church and communities and grew up with positive assurance of their self worth states Queen Sutton. “Discrimination may have been present in our home towns but it was not something that was dwelt on by our families or communities. We were always encouraged to be the best we could be.”
Queen Sutton’s father farmed and her entrepreneurial mother sold beauty and Watkins products in the area and Sutton’s father also drove their school bus. They were taught to work for what they wanted and that no one was going to hand things to them, values that were lived out in their adult lives and motivated them to work hard at employment and education.
After attending Lucas Elementary school Queen Sutton finished high school at the Prentiss Institute while Sutton enlisted in the Air Force shortly before graduation. (He did get his degree at Friedmont in California later and remained active in the Air National Guard.) They married and moved to California where Sutton went to electronics school and got a job with South California Edison Co. and after 26 years retired and the couple returned to Mississippi.
The first obvious discrimination they experienced, as described in the first paragraph of this article, was not in their hometown but in California and was shocking to them forcing them to realize some things needed to change.
While working and furthering their education realizing the importance of the election process the two became active in civic affairs and when they returned to Jeff Davis County to become a part of their native area again community, civic and religious activities have kept the couple busy.
Queen Sutton, who taught for 16 years in California private schools, ran a daycare of her own and assisted their son run a limousine business before returning to Mississippi, taught school in JDC and became county coordinator establishing art classes while both became active holding leadership positions the last 12 years in the local NAACP and various church organizations and activities.
“Our aim is to help people. My husband taught me to give without expecting anything in return and we love giving and helping other people.”
Though the couple may not expect anything in return for their service the many plaques and awards of appreciation from the NAACP, and various church and civic organizations that grace their home prove their efforts have not gone unnoticed by others.
“There have been a lot of positive changes and there are still more that need to be made,” Queen Sutton states. “Unity in the Community has done a wonderful job and so has the county Chamber of bringing the community together. More unification in churches supporting one another is needed but overall the people have been very supportive of the area NAACP and so have local businesses.”
Queen Sutton states even now, at age 77 and 80, as advice to others they would offer their lifetime goals. “Get a good education, be respectful to others, dream and work hard believing in yourself, and treat others as you want to be treated,” and she adds, “Love God with all your soul, mind and body and love your neighbor as yourself.”