As the likes of Shawn Carter and Sean Combs continue to preen
and pose and export their own hype, Percy Ellis Sutton, a real
master of the game, has passed away. Sutton went to glory on
Saturday, December 26th and his was one remarkable life. The
fifteenth and last child born to Samuel ("S.J.") - a former slave -
and Lillian, Sutton, would stow away on a passenger train to New
York City on Manhattan Island, at the age of twelve, where he
would sleep under a sign on 155th Street in the Harlem neighbor-
hood of the borough he would one day serve as Borough Presi-
At age thirteen, Sutton was passing out leaflets in an all-white
neighborhood for the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP). By the age of sixteen he would
achive the rank of Eagle Scout as a member of the Boy Scouts
A lifelong adventurer, Sutton would take up stunt-flying on the
barnstorming circuit. He would land at Tuskegee Institute where
he would become one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. He
would win combat stars in the Italian and Mediterranean war
theaters as a member of the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S.
Army Air Forces.
After attending Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View,
Texas, the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee Alabama, and the
Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia, Sutton would go on to
attend the Brooklyn Law School in the borough of Brooklyn on
the New York Islands while working as a post office clerk and
a subway conductor.
Sutton would serve again as an Air Force intelligence officer
during the Korean War before returning to Harlem in 1953 and
establishing his law office with brother Oliver and a third partner,
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. Sutton was also elected to two terms as president
of the New York office of the NAACP.
After Malcolm's assassination, Sutton worked as lawyer for Mal-
colm's widow, Betty Shabazz. He represented her grandson, 12-
year-old Malcolm Shabazz, when the youth was accused of setting
a 1997 fire that caused her death.
Sutton became a longtime leader in Harlem politics and was a
charter member of the Harlem Clubhouse, a fraternal organi-
zation that would include four men who become the pillars of
the New York local and national politics: Representative Charles
Rangel, now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee;
former New York City Mayor David Dinkins; former state senator
and New York’s first black secretary of state; Basil Paterson (the
father of current New York Governor David Paterson) and Sutton,
himself, who would become Manhattan Borough President.
In concert with his brother Oliver, a future New York State
Supreme Court Justice, Sutton would purchase radio station
WLIB-AM, making it the first black-owned station in New York
City. The brothers’ Inner City Broadcasting Corporation would
eventually pick up WBLS-FM before buying stations in Los
Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio.
Sutton and Inner City Broadcasting would purchase the famed
Apollo Theatre in 1983, beginning an extensive renovation that
would bring the hallowed venue back to its former glory. Sutton
"retired" in 1991, but his work as an adviser, mentor and confi-
dant to politicians and businessmen would continue until his
I see you, Jay-Z and P-Diddy, and I raise you Percy Sutton.
Mosiday, Lavai 1, 10017
1 year ago