Percy Sutton, a Harlem civil rights activist, politician and media figure, died Saturday, Dec. 26 at the age of 89.
Sutton’s cause of death is unknown.
An influential figure in New York politics, Sutton helped guide the careers of numerous black politicians.
“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,” Gov. Paterson said in a statement.
“Percy Sutton was a trailblazer. … 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.”
The son of a slave, Sutton grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the youngest of 15 siblings.
He fought with the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps with the rank of captain, Sutton enrolled in the Brooklyn College Law School.
He received his law degree in 1950.
Three years later, he opened his law office in Harlem and quickly became one of the country’s best-known lawyers. Activist Malcolm X and boxer Sugar Ray Robinson were among his first clients.
Sutton also began a long association with the NAACP, and immersed himself in the civil and human rights movement.
In the late 1960s, Sutton turned his attention to politics, becoming a New York State assemblyman.
He ran for the Manhattan borough president post in 1966 and won in a landslide.
Sutton held the position for 12 years. During that time, he became a leader of the so-called Harlem Clubhouse, a group of black leaders that dominated Democratic politics in Harlem for years.
Among the “Gang of Four” were former Mayor David Dinkins, Rep. Charles Rangel, and former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson, the governor’s father.
“As a member of the Gang of Four, [Sutton] spawned the successful careers of so many other African-American leaders,” Paterson said. “It was Percy Sutton who talked me into running for office and who has continued to serve as one of my most valued advisers ever since.”
Sutton went on to become a radio mogul, purchasing WLIB-AM in 1971, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York City.
In 1977, Sutton ran for the democratic nomination for mayor, but lost to Ed Koch.
He was also instrumental in the revitalization of Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
Sutton is survived by his wife, Leatrice; his son Pierre, and daughter Cheryl.