- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) | Percy Sutton, the pioneering civil rights attorney who represented Malcolm X before launching successful careers as a political power broker and media mogul, has died. He was 89.

Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for New York Gov. David A. Paterson, confirmed that Mr. Sutton died Saturday. She did not know the cause. His daughter, Cheryl Sutton, declined to comment Saturday when reached by phone at her New York City home.

The son of a slave, Percy Sutton became a fixture on 125th Street in Harlem after moving to New York City after his service with the famed 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 also 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. Mr. Jackson recalled Mr. Sutton talking about electing a black president as early as 1972.

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

In a statement released Saturday night, Mr. Paterson called Mr. 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,” Mr. Paterson said. “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.”

President Obama called Mr. Sutton “a true hero” to blacks 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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

In 1971, with his brother Oliver, Mr. Sutton 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, and later bought stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio between 1978 and 1985.

The Texas purchase marked a homecoming for the suave and sophisticated Mr. Sutton, born in San Antonio on Nov. 24, 1920, the youngest of 15 children.

Among Mr. Sutton’s other endeavors was his purchase and renovation of the famed Apollo Theater when the Harlem landmark’s demise appeared imminent.

“The Apollo and its staff stand on the shoulders of Mr. Sutton as the theater continues to flourish,” said Jonelle Procope, president and chief executive officer of Apollo Theater Foundation Inc. He “will be greatly missed and will always be an integral part of the Apollo legacy.”

Mr. Sutton’s father, Samuel, was born into slavery just before the Civil War. The elder Mr. 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.

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 was also elected to two terms as president of the New York office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition to his radio holdings, Mr. Sutton also headed a group that owned the Amsterdam News, the second-largest black weekly newspaper in the country. The paper was later sold.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said he last visited Mr. Sutton in a nursing home Wednesday. Mr. Sutton paid for Mr. Sharpton’s trip to a national black political convention because the 16-year-old Mr. Sharpton couldn’t afford to go.

“He personified the black experience of the 20th century,” Mr. Sharpton said. “He started the century where blacks were victims. We ended as victors.”

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced Sunday that flags on city buildings would be lowered in Mr. Sutton’s honor.

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