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Percy Sutton Dies at 89

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Percy Sutton, the pioneering civil rights attorney who represented Malcolm X before launching successful careers as a political power broker and media mogul, has died. He was 89. The cause of death is not yet known.

The Texas-born Sutton moved to New York City following his service with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. His Harlem law office represented Malcolm X and the slain activist's family for decades. Sutton served in the state Assembly before taking over as Manhattan borough president in 1966, becoming the highest-ranking black elected official in the state. Sutton also mounted unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and mayor of New York, and served as political mentor for Jesse Jackson's two presidential races.

In a statement, President Barack Obama called Percy Sutton, "a true hero to African Americans in New York City and around the country."

Former New York Mayor David Dinkins first met Sutton in the '50s. He says that Sutton was a visionary who set the stage for future black politicians.

"He ran for mayor in '77, and he did so with such class and distinction that no one laughed at me when I dared try in '89. And I say it is because of him that I ultimately got to be mayor," Dinkins says.

In 1971, Percy Sutton and his brother Oliver purchased WLIB-AM, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York City. His Inner City Broadcasting Corp. eventually picked up WBLS-FM, which reigned for years as New York's top-rated radio station, before buying stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and San Antonio between 1978-85.

Among Sutton's other endeavors was his purchase of Apollo Theater in 1981 when the Harlem landmark's demise appeared imminent.

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