He was the son of a slave, a mentor to Rev. Jesse Jackson, lawyer for Malcolm X and prominent figure in New York politics and a fixture in the Harlem community, Percy Sutton died late last night at the age of 89, his longtime friend Governor David A. Paterson said late last night.
After serving in World War II and Korea as one of the Tuskegee Airmen Sutton, the youngest of 15 children opened a law office on 125th Street in Harlem, where he'd spend decades representing Malcolm X and later the slain leader's family, as well as taking on many prominent civil rights cases.
Sutton would go on to serve a long career in politics, representing the neighborhood as a member of the New York State Assembly. In 1966 Sutton was appointed to fill a vacancy in the office of Manhattan Borough President, making him the highest-ranking black politician in the state. He later mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the United States Senate and New York City Mayor, and served as political mentor for Rev. Jesse Jackson's two presidential races.
Jackson often referred to Sutton as "The Godfather."
David N. Dinkins, the city's first black mayor said, "I stand on the shoulders of Percy Sutton."
Paterson referred to Sutton as “A trailblazer, one of New York’s and this nation’s most influential African-American leaders – a man whom I am proud to have called a friend and mentor throughout my entire career.
"It was Percy Sutton who talked me into running for office and who has continued to serve as one of my most valued advisors ever since," said Paterson. “Percy was fiercely loyal, compassionate and a truly kind soul. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on through the next generations of African-Americans he inspired to pursue and fulfill their own dreams and ambitions."
Sutton would go on to serve as a media mogul, building largest network of black radio stations in the country. At one point Sutton owned a majority holding of The Amsterdam News, the country's second largest African-American weekly newspaper.
"He was a great man," Charles Warfield Jr., the president and chief operating officer of ICBC Broadcast Holdings Inc., told the Associated Press early this morning. He declined to comment further out of respect, he indicated, for the wishes of Sutton's family.
Sutton is also credited with the rebirth of the historic Apollo Theater. In 1981 he spent $250,000 to purchase the then shuttered Apollo Theater. The Apollo turned 70 in 2004, a milestone that was unthinkable until Sutton stepped in to save the landmark.
Rev. Al Sharpton has scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to remember the life of Sutton, who is survived by his daughter, Cheryl, who has declined to speak with the media.
The cause of death has not been disclosed.