RIP Percy Sutton, 1920-2009

Posted by | December 27, 2009 10:56 | Filed under: Top Stories

Percy Sutton was a civil rights attorney and a New York power broker whose influence broadened political opportunities for African-American politicians and whose business acumen built an empire.  Sutton served with the Tuskegee Airmen duirng WWII and represented Malcolm X (and also Malcolm X’s family for decades after his death).  He served in the New York State Assembly before becoming Manhattan borough president in 1966, when he was the highest elected black official in the state.

“He never stopped building bridges and laying the groundwork,” [Rev. Jesse] Jackson said Sunday. “We are very glad to be the beneficiaries of his work.”


In a statement released Saturday night, Gov. David Paterson called Sutton a mentor and “one of New York’s and this nation’s most influential African-American leaders.”


“Percy was fiercely loyal, compassionate and a truly kind soul,” Paterson continued. “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.”

The Sutton family bought WLIB-AM in 1971, which was the first black-owned radio station in New York City.  His company, Inner City Broadcasting, expanded its reach with WBLS-FM, which was the number one radio station in New York for many years, and with stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.  Sutton bought and renovated the renowned Apollo Theater, a landmark destination for performers.

Sutton’s father, Samuel, was born into slavery just before the Civil War. The elder Sutton became principal at a segregated San Antonio high school, and he made education a family priority: All 12 of his surviving children attended college.


When he was 13, Percy Sutton endured a traumatic experience that drove him inexorably into the fight for racial equality. A police officer approached Sutton as the teen handed out NAACP pamphlets. “N—–, what are you doing out of your neighborhood?” he asked before beating the youth.

Sutton was one of the first to speak out against the Vietnam War, giving up a delegate’s seat at the 1968 Democratic convention in protest, and supporting George McGovern four years later in his campaign against Richard Nixon.

Sutton “retired” in 1991, but his work as an adviser, mentor and confidante to politicians and businessmen never abated. He was among a group of American businessmen selected during the Clinton administration to attend meetings with the Group of Seven (G-7) Nations in 1995-96.


“He was a great man,” said Charles Warfield Jr., the president and chief operating officer of ICBC Broadcast Holdings Inc., when reached early Sunday.

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Copyright 2009 Liberaland
By: Alan

Alan Colmes is the publisher of Liberaland.

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