Remembering Percy E. Sutton

Friends, family share memories of civil rights titan

mr sutton apollo

Percy Sutton

“Mentor, leader, media mogul, entrepreneur, friend, WWII fighter, champion, “The Chairman,” or just simply Dad or Uncle Jimmy are all ways in which family and friends remembered Percy Ellis Sutton during his funeral service at Riverside Church on Wednesday.

Sutton passed away on Dec. 26. He was 89.

In a time when the civil rights and civil liberties of African Americans were limited, Sutton defied the odds and worked hard against obstacles to educate himself. For more than 50 years Sutton’s numerous achievements would make him an iconic figure in New York and his legendary stature would inspire and motivate many far beyond Harlem. The pioneering civil rights attorney represented Malcolm X, served as Manhattan’s borough president, was elected to the state Legislature, served as a member of the NAACP, resurrected Harlem’s 125th street by saving the Apollo Theater, and built a media empire making WBLS the No. 1 radio station in the country. Even with all his accomplishments, Sutton still made time for his family and mentored politicians, entrepreneurs and every day people. Today, all whom he touched celebrated his life and legacy.

President Barack Obama called Sutton “a true hero to African-Americans in New York City and around the country. We will remember him for his service to the country…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.”

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said “We all have an obligation to continue this great man’s work. … We all cannot be Percy Sutton, but there is a little of Percy in all of us. Part of my life is to make sure that Percy Sutton never dies.”

Sutton’s granddaughter Keisha Sutton James called her grandfather her “Einstein and Superman. He was brilliant and infallible. He taught me to love truly and made sure that this little black girl knew she was amazing.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy, said “Percy Sutton didn’t die, he just passed away. Every time a black politician walks in a Legislature hallway, that’s Percy Sutton. Every time a black radio station plays black music, that’s Percy Sutton. Every time talk radio registers voters and mobilizes those that fight for justice, that’s Percy Sutton. He took the megaphones out of our hands and gave us a radio station…he made us important.”

Former Mayor David Dinkins called Sutton his “personal hero.” “Had there been no Chairman Sutton there certainly would be no Mayor Dinkins. Percy was more than the architect & engineer of the Gang of Four. He was our inspiration.”

Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP praised Sutton as her “fearless mentor.” “He was always willing to give his guidance and support.”

New York Gov. David Paterson
remembered Sutton in a video statement for being “fiercely loyal, compassionate and a truly kind soul. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on through the next generation of African Americans he inspired to pursue and fulfill their own dreams and ambitions.”

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