PERCY SUTTON | 1920-2009
Attorney for Malcolm X dies at age 89
Career included politics, media
BY CRISTIAN SALAZAR
Dec. 28, 2009
NEW YORK -- Percy Sutton, the pioneering civil rights attorney who
represented Malcolm X before launching successful careers as a
political power broker and news media mogul, died. He was 89.
Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Paterson, confirmed
that Mr. Sutton died Saturday. She did not know the cause.
The son of a slave, Mr. Sutton became a fixture on 125th Street in
Harlem after his service with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.
His Harlem law office, founded in 1953, represented Malcolm X and the
slain activist's family for decades.
The consummate politician, Mr. Sutton served in the New York State
Assembly before taking over as Manhattan borough president in 1966,
becoming the highest ranking black elected official in the state.
Mr. Sutton mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and
mayor of New York and served as political mentor for the Rev. Jesse
Jackson's two presidential races.
President Barack Obama called Mr. Sutton a true hero to African
Americans across the country.
"His lifelong 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," Obama said in a statement.
Mr. Sutton was born in San Antonio on Nov. 24, 1920, the youngest of
In 1971, with his brother Oliver, he 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 in 1978-85.
Among Mr. Sutton's other endeavors were his purchase and renovation
of the famed Apollo Theater when the Harlem landmark's demise
In addition to representing Malcolm X for a decade until his 1965
assassination, the Sutton firm handled the cases of more than 200
defendants arrested in the South during the 1963-64 civil rights
marches. Mr. Sutton also was elected to two terms as president of the
New York office of the NAACP.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Sunday that flags on city buildings
would be lowered in Mr. Sutton's honor.
By The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
Jan. 11, 2010
In Harlem they called him the Big Rock: when it hit the water, the
concentric waves kept going. Percy Sutton, who died Dec. 26 at 89,
was a Renaissance man--a gentle, scholarly, tough social transformer;
a long-distance runner; and a former Tuskegee Airman. In his long
career as one of the nation's most influential black political and
business figures, he made plenty of waves.
Percy, who was born in Texas and studied law at Columbia University
and Brooklyn Law School on the GI Bill, became Manhattan borough
president in 1966--making him the highest-ranking black official in
the state at the time. His 1977 run for mayor was unsuccessful, but
his work cleared the way for politicians like Representative Charlie
Rangel and David Dinkins, who in 1989 was elected the city's first black mayor.
When Percy went to join the civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., he
took along Rangel, Dinkins and Basil Paterson, the father of New
York's current governor. One day, after hearing Malcolm X speak in
Harlem, Percy went to his office and said, "Malcolm, you need a
lawyer." Percy represented him until his 1965 assassination.
Percy was a tireless advocate for African Americans' economic rights.
In 1971 he bought WLIB-AM. It became the first black-owned radio
station in the city. He had to go to 62 banks to get the money for
it. His belief was that radio was the only way blacks running for
office could get their message out. After the Apollo Theater's lights
went out in 1975, Percy invested $250,000 to help revive the institution.
Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King died violently. Percy's friends
in the military died violently. But God let Percy down easy. He lived
40 years longer than Dr. King and Malcolm and made good use of that
time. So many of us are indebted to him. We always want some special
gift for Christmas. I suppose this time, heaven wanted a present.