(NNPA) - Percy Sutton, best known outside New York for his involvement in the civil rights movement and founding a communications empire, died on December 26. He was 89.
Sutton was born in San Antonio, Texas, the youngest of 15 children of a former slave and his wife. According to the New York Times, Sutton received education at three historically Black college or universities including Prairie View A&M in Texas, Tuskegee University in Alabama, and Hampton University in Virginia, but did not complete a degree at any of those schools. He served with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Although he did not have an undergraduate degree, Sutton was admitted to Columbia Law School through the G.I. Bill and on the merit of his solid undergraduate performances. Because he had to work while attending school, he transferred to Brooklyn Law School. He was in class all day, and worked through the night at the post office and as a subway train conductor, the New York Times reported. He went for three years, with little sleep, to finish school and become a lawyer.
After a stint with Air Force intelligence during the Korean War, according to the Associated Press, Sutton returned to New York to work as a lawyer.
Sutton's involvement with the civil rights movement included a family involvement with the NAACP that earned him a police beating at age 15. As an attorney, he became an advocate for the cause and longtime attorney for Malcolm X and his family. The New York Times notes Sutton was arrested for civil disobedience while protesting the police shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo in New York in 1999.
Sutton was also a politician, and served as Manhattan borough president from 1966 to 1977 and a state assemblyman for one term starting in 1964. According to the New York Times, Sutton was instrumental in securing funding for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and worked to establish open admissions for the City University of New York. He was also the first serious Black candidate for mayor of New York City.
"Percy Sutton was a true hero to African Americans in New York City and around the country," President Obama said in a statement. "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."
Sutton's business ventures centered around communications and media, and at one point included an interest in the Amsterdam News. He also owned radio stations in 18 cities across the United States, cable television systems and some national television programs. He was married three times, twice to Leatrice O'Farrell Sutton, his surviving spouse. He is also survived by a son, Pierre Sutton, and a daughter from his second marriage, Cheryl Lynn Sutton.