Harlem Icon Percy Sutton Dies; N.Y. Mayor Orders Flags at Half-Mast

Harlem Icon Percy Sutton Dies; N.Y. Mayor Orders Flags at Half-Mast

Published December 28, 2009

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg ordered flags at city offices flown at half staff today to honor African-American icon Percy Sutton, whose death was announced Sunday by his family.

"It's hard to capture in just a few words how important Percy's contributions were -- and just how unique an individual he was, Bloomberg said in a statement. “He helped move African-Americans and all of New York forward.”

Comments and Condolences: More on Sutton's Death

Practically every individual splinter of Percy Sutton’s amazing life was enough to earn him a place among history’s heroes.

The quintessential African-American renaissance man, Sutton once served as an intelligence officer for the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a lawyer for Malcolm X and his family, a media mogul, an advisor to shakers and movers of New York City life and the shrewd businessman who kicked off the restoration of the famous Apollo Theater and breathed new life into Harlem, the hub of Black life America.

Sutton was 89.

"Percy was fiercely loyal, compassionate and a truly kind soul," New York Gov. David Paterson said in a statement. "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." Paterson’s father, Basil, who went on to become the New York secretary of state, was a friend of Sutton’s. The Manhattan borough president from 1966 to 1977, Sutton – along with Basil Paterson, longtime Democratic lawmaker Charles Rangel and future New York Mayor David Dinkins – formed the powerful and politically influential “Gang of Four” in the 1970s.

“Percy never stopped fighting for our rights and building community, especially in his beloved Harlem,” Rangel said in a statement. “Percy Sutton wrote his own story, and in doing so, he leaves behind a remarkable legacy of achievement and social justice that will serve as an example and inspiration for generations of leaders, now and forever.”

Having represented Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X until the Black leader was assassinated in 1965, Sutton then became the attorney for X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, until she died in a 1997 fire. When Shabazz’s 12-year-old grandson was charged with starting that fire, Sutton then represented him.

A pioneer in media, he launched the nation’s first string of stations targeting African-American listeners when he purchased radio stations WLIB and WBLS. In a word, he paved the way for future entrepreneurs Cathy Hughes and Bob Johnson.

"He was at the forefront of everything you can think of in Black America," Sharpton told CNN. "He was the quintessential Black American. He pioneered Black business, Black media and Black politics. He opened those doors and he kept them open. “

When he reopened the Apollo, Sharpton said, it had been boarded up and “the only ones here were the rats and the roaches. He was suave and eloquent and debonair. He had a coolness about him that I think that we will never see the likes of. There was a grace about Percy Sutton that was hard to describe."

President Obama, upon hearing of Sutton’s death, called him a “true hero to African-Americans in New York City and around the country."                             

"His 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," Obama said.

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Written by <P>By Ed Wiley III</P>

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