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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Civil Rights Community Mourns the Loss of Percy Sutton

December 28, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

New York Mayor John V. Lindsay stands with Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and family.

 New York Mayor John V. Lindsay stands with Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and family. (Photograph from New York Department of Records)

Percy Sutton, a prominent civil rights lawyer, politician, and successful businessman, died this past weekend. He was 89.

The son of a former slave, Sutton served his country during World War II as a Tuskegee Airman and in the Korean War. In 1953, he opened a law practice in Harlem. As a passionate advocate for civil rights, Sutton marched and litigated for civil rights legislation throughout the 50s and 60s. He was also known for his legal representation of Malcolm X. In 1966, Sutton was appointed Manhattan Borough President, becoming the highest-ranking black official in the state, and was twice reelected to that post. Sutton later served as president of the New York office of the NAACP.

Sutton was also a pioneer in the business world. In 1971, he and his brother Oliver purchased and ran the first black-owned radio station in New York City. In subsequent years, Sutton continued to promote black-owned media by acquiring several more radio stations around the country, and, in 1981, he bought the landmark Apollo Theater to save it from destruction.

Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and former director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, praised Sutton – know to many as “the Chairman” -- as “one of the great transformative figures of the 20th century and especially of New York City politics.”

Henderson said, “Percy Sutton was a larger-than-life presence who combined all that we could hope to be -- a proud, sophisticated, erudite Black man; an activist, advocate, lawyer, politician, successful businessman, and philanthropist.

“The Chairman was a force for good in changing America for the better. He lived at a time when the direct effects of slavery in American life were a genuine reality, yet he became a millionaire. He lived to see America elect its first African American President. But more importantly, and in ways that few others could claim, he helped make it happen. His death is truly the end of an era.

“Percy Sutton will be sorely missed.  I’m glad I had the privilege of knowing him.”

 

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