Percy Sutton, the pioneering civil rights attorney, political leader and media icon, died on December 27, 2009 at the age of 89. A member of the Class of 1950, he was one of Brooklyn Law School’s most distinguished graduates and one of the nation’s most influential African-American leaders.
In a statement, President Barack Obama called Sutton “a true hero to African-Americans in New York City and around the country” and said Sutton’s “life-long dedication to the fight for civil rights and his career as an entrepreneur and public servant made the rise of countless young African-Americans possible.”Read President Obama's statement.
New York Governor David Paterson called Sutton “a mentor” and said his legacy lives on through the generations of African-Americans he inspired.
Sutton was born in Texas in 1920, the youngest of 15 children whose father had been a slave before the Civil War. Following his service with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, Sutton moved to New York City. He worked his way through Brooklyn Law School with two jobs -- as a postal worker and subway conductor -- and then served as an Air Force intelligence officer during the Korean War before returning to establish his law firm in Harlem in 1953. The law firm represented Malcolm X and his family, and handled the cases of more than 200 defendants arrested in the South during the 1963-64 civil rights marches.
Sutton was also elected to two terms as president of the New York office of the NAACP. He served in the state Assembly in 1965 and as Manhattan borough president in 1966, the highest-ranking black elected official in the state. He later campaigned unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and New York mayoralty, and then served as political mentor for Jesse Jackson's two presidential races.
In 1971, he headed a group that purchased The Amsterdam News
, the second largest black weekly newspaper in the country, and an AM station, WLIB, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York City. In 1974, his group, Inner City Broadcasting, bought WBLS-FM and eventually another 18 radio stations nationwide and several cable franchises. Among Sutton's other endeavors was his purchase and renovation of the landmark Apollo Theater in Harlem, which reopened in 1985.
Former New York Mayor David Dinkins, class of 1956 was a friend of Sutton’s since the 1950s. He remarked that Sutton was a visionary who set the stage for all future black politicians. Errol Louis, Class of 2005, who is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the New York Daily News, wrote about Sutton: “He was uniquely gifted and successful, but also part of a greatest generation of black leadership that came of age during the darkest days of Jim Crow segregation and tenaciously set about the business of dismantling it.”
Read more about Percy Sutton:
"Percy E. Sutton, Political Trailblazer, Dies at 89" (The New York Times
"Percy Sutton, Harlem political pioneer, dies at 89" (Associated Press
"Percy Sutton" by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. (Time
"As a mogul, politican, trailblazer, war hero, Percy Sutton was a man of ambition" by Errol Louis, Jr. ’05 (New York Daily News