Percy Sutton lived the kind of life you only hear about in the movies. He was one of the famed Tuskegee Airman, a civil rights lawyer, a leading Black politician and a communications and media mogul. His death Saturday night leaves a hole in many people’s heart but also a magnificent legacy that should be used to inspire young African-Americans today.
Sutton, 89, was a lawyer for Malcolm X, a Freedom Rider and New York City’s first serious Black candidate for mayor. You could argue that he helped blaze a trail for leaders like former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and President Barack Obama. He was also a man who recognized the importance of preserving African-American history. His decades-long fight to make sure the Apollo Theatre in Harlem survived is just one example.
Following are some of the tributes that have come in for Percy Sutton who passed away Saturday.
President Obama praised Sutton, saying:
“Percy Sutton was a true hero to African- Americans in New York City and around the- country….We will remember him for his service to the country as a Tuskegee Airman, to New York State as a state assemblyman, to New York City as Manhattan Borough president, and to the community of Harlem in leading the effort to revitalize the world renowned Apollo Theater. 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. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to his family on this sad day.”
Governor David A. Paterson: “Tonight, we say farewell to one of New York’s and this nation’s most influential African-American leaders, a man whom I am proud to have called a friend and mentor throughout my entire career.
“Percy Sutton was a trailblazer. He began his career as a prominent lawyer for Malcolm X and then took Harlem by storm as a leader of the Harlem Clubhouse where he launched not only his own successful political career but, as a member of the Gang of Four, spawned the successful careers of so many other African-American leaders.
It was Percy Sutton who talked me into running for office and who has continued to serve as one of my most valued advisors ever since.
“The youngest of fifteen children, Percy dreamt big and exceeded even the highest of expectations. His success did not end simply with legal triumph or elective office –both of which he attained. Beyond those achievements, it was his entrepreneurial spirit that led to some of his greatest accomplishments – the rebirth of the Apollo Theater, the stewardship of a growing media empire and more.
“Percy was fiercely loyal, compassionate and a truly kind soul. 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.
“Thank you, Percy, for your friendship and for all that you have contributed to our state and our nation. On behalf of Michelle, the Paterson Family and all New Yorkers, our prayers are with your family.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: “New York has always been a city of trailblazers, but few have opened more doors for more people than Percy Sutton did.
From his service to our nation in WWII, to serving our City in Albany as an Assemblyman and as the longest-serving president of the borough of Manhattan, he not only lived the civil rights movement, he shaped it and played a key role in ensuring its success. As Borough President, Percy opened up the door to many students to attend City University. He was in the forefront of Black entrepreneurship, which created ownership of media companies by Blacks, and the first Black-owned radio station in New York City. It’s hard to capture in just a few words how important Percy’s contributions were – and just how unique an individual he was. He helped move African Americans, and all of New York forward. Personally, I consider myself lucky to be among the many to whom he gave advice.
“Starting tomorrow, flags at all New York City government buildings will be lowered in his honor, and I ask all New Yorkers to keep his widow, Leatrice, his son Pierre, daughter Cheryl.”
State Senator Kevin Parker: “The passing of Mr. Percy Sutton is a tragic loss for our nation. Not only have we lost one of the great icons of American Politics, but we have also lost a man who dedicated his life to ensure that everyone is afforded the same rights and opportunities.
“Percy Sutton inspired millions of African Americans all over the world and fought with great courage for many righteous causes. He came to New York seeking the limitless opportunities our state has always provided to the many millions of other Americans and served as a public servant, lending his powerful voice to the people in Harlem and to those who needed it the most.
“As we grieve his loss and remember his leadership and service, we send our thoughts and prayers to the entire Sutton family.”
Jonelle Procope, president and CEO, The Apollo Theater Foundation, Inc: “The Apollo family is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the Percy E. Sutton, a visionary, a true champion of civil rights, and one of our greatest statesmen. Throughout his life, Mr. Sutton showed a profound devotion to Harlem and New York City. In keeping with his commitment to the Harlem community, Mr. Sutton purchased the Apollo Theater in 1981 and proceeded to restore and revitalize the Theater. The Apollo and its staff stand on the shoulders of Mr. Sutton as the Theater continues to flourish today in this, our 75th anniversary year. Our sympathy goes out to the entire Sutton family. Mr. Sutton will be greatly missed and will always be an integral part of the Apollo legacy.”