Garlington Jerome (G. J., Dee) Sutton, the first Black elected official from Bexar County, was born in San Antonio on June 22, 1909, son of Samuel Johnson and Lillian Viola (Smith) Sutton. Both parents were teachers; Samuel Sutton, one of the first Black teachers in Bexar County, served as principal of three high schools during his fifty-four-year career in education. G. J. Sutton was the eighth of fifteen children. All twelve Sutton children who survived to adulthood earned college degrees. Four of Sutton's sisters were prominent teachers; one brother was an inventor; and a sister was the first woman graduate of the Howard University School of Medicine. Oliver Carter Sutton was for many years a judge of the New York Supreme Court, and Percy Sutton was president of the Borough of Manhattan in New York City. Sutton was educated in San Antonio public schools and attended Wiley College in Marshall. He earned a bachelor of science degree at Wilberforce University, Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1932 and later a degree in mortuary science at Cincinnati College. After his return to San Antonio in 1938, G. J. and his brother Samuel took over the family's business, Sutton and Sutton Funeral Home, the oldest Black-owned mortuary in San Antonio. Sutton's first elected position came in 1948, when he became a member of the board of trustees of the San Antonio Union Junior College District. As trustee he tried to increase the resources devoted to St. Philip's College, a campus serving mostly Blacks and Hispanics. A three-story learning center on the St. Philip's campus was named in his honor in June 1980.
After the legislative redistricting of Texas in 1972, Sutton became the first representative of District 57-E and the first Black elected representative from San Antonio. He was chosen chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and was a staunch supporter of the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio and of state grants for college students. When the Texas legislature wrote a new state constitution in 1974, Sutton's criticisms contributed to its rejection by the voters. He proposed that the state buy an office building in his district to save leasing money, to serve neglected citizens better, and to enhance the city's efforts to revitalize the St. Paul Square neighborhood. Appropriations after his death made possible dedication of the renovated G. J. Sutton State Office Complex in his honor on October 27, 1982. Sutton was a trustee and lifelong member of the Second Baptist Church of San Antonio. He was in the Texas delegation to the 1960 Democratic national convention and had just been elected a delegate to the 1976 convention at the time of his death. He was on the boards of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and of the Independent Funeral Directors' Association of Texas. Sutton taught as a visiting lecturer at Baylor University and belonged to many organizations, among them the National Funeral Directors' Association, the Van Courtlandt Club, the Plaza Club, and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; he was a thirty-second-degree Mason. He was chosen Father of the Year by the Twentieth Century Club in 1972 and commended for outstanding community service by the Mission City Elks Lodge and by St. Philip's College. The Independent Funeral Directors' Association chose him as 1973 Man of the Year, and in 1974 Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity commended him for outstanding achievement in government. The San Antonio Express-News designated him politician of the year in 1975. Sutton first married Jeffery Plummer of San Marcos; they had one daughter. In 1958 Sutton married Lou Nelle Callahan of San Angelo, who succeeded him as representative of District 57-E in the Texas House of Representatives, thus becoming the first woman to represent Bexar County in the legislature. Sutton died of a heart attack in San Antonio on his sixty-seventh birthday, June 22, 1976. The Texas Legislative Black Caucus presents a G. J. Sutton award for leadership each legislative session.
San Antonio Express, June 23, 1976. Who's Who among Black Americans, 1975–76.
School Trustees and Regents
Politics and Government
Activism and Social Reform
Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery
Sciences, Agriculture, and Engineering
Sixty-fourth Legislature (1975)
Sixty-third Legislature (1973)
Texas in the 1920s
World War II
Texas Post World War II
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Leonard B. Murphy,
“Sutton, Garlington Jerome,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed September 24, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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