Percy Sutton, Trailblazing Black Attorney, Dies

Monday, December 28, 2009

Percy Sutton, one of New York's trailblazing black attorneys and businessmen, has died.  He was 89.

A pioneering civil rights attorney, Sutton represented Malcolm X before launching successful careers as a political power broker and media mogul.

The Texas-born Sutton was the son of a former slave. He moved to New York City following his service with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. His Harlem law office represented Malcolm X and the slain activist's family for decades. Sutton served in the state Assembly before taking over as Manhattan borough president in 1966, becoming the highest-ranking black elected official in the state. Sutton also mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and mayor of New York, and served as political mentor for Jesse Jackson's two presidential races.

Governor David Paterson says he took inspiration from Sutton's legacy of hard work.

"I remember him talking about when he was in law school, he had a job as a conductor on the D train, he was a waiter at Gage & Tollner's, and he was a postman all at once," the governor says.

In 1971, Percy Sutton and his brother Oliver purchased WLIB-AM, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York City. His Inner City Broadcasting Corp. eventually picked up WBLS-FM, which reigned for years as New York's top-rated radio station, before buying stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio between 1978-85.

Among Sutton's other endeavors was his purchase of Apollo Theater in 1981 when the Harlem landmark's demise appeared imminent.

In a statement, President Barack Obama called Percy Sutton, "a true hero to African Americans in ew York City and around the country."

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