- NAME: Percy Sutton
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer
- BIRTH DATE: November 24, 1920
- DEATH DATE: December 26, 2009
- Did You Know?: With Hal Jackson, Percy Sutton acquired WLIB-AM and WBLS-FM, New York City's first African American-owned and -operated radio stations.
- EDUCATION: Prairie View A&M University, Tuskegee Institute, Hampton Institute, Columbia Law School, Brooklyn Law School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: San Antonio, Texas
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Percy Ellis Sutton
- AKA: Percy Sutton
Best Known For
Percy Sutton was a Freedom Rider, civil rights activist and prominent African-American lawyer best known for representing Malcolm X.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses famous figures who contributed to the history of political activism in Harlem.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is widely considered the most influential leader of the American civil rights movement. He fought to overturn Jim Crow segregation laws and eliminate social and economic differences between blacks and whites.
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He later learned he had passed the test required to practice law, but he was already on his way to serve in the Korean War.
After returning to civilian life in 1953, Sutton opened a law practice in Harlem. In keeping with his upbringing, Sutton threw himself into the civil rights movement,
representing those who were arrested in protests in the South. It was during this time that he heard civil rights leader Malcolm X preaching equality. Sutton introduced himself, telling the activist that he would be his new lawyer. He represented Malcolm X until the civil rights leader's assassination in 1965. After Malcolm's death, Sutton made the leader's funeral arrangements, and also worked to represent Malcolm's widow, Betty Shabazz.
In 1966, when Manhattan borough president Constance Baker Motley received a federal judgeship, the City Council chose Sutton as her replacement. He served the remaining three years of her term, and was re-elected to two more terms after that, in 1969 and 1973. In 1971, while still serving as borough president, Sutton began investing in media companies including The New York Am-sterdam News, New York's largest black newspaper. He also invested in AM station, WLIB, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York. In 1974, he and his investors added WBLS-FM to their holdings, as well as more than 18 radio stations and cable franchises.
In 1981, Sutton also made headlines when he and his investment partners bought the crumbling Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. The theater reopened in 1985, and boasted more than $20 million in renovations, including a cable television studio that was used to produce the variety show It's Showtime at the Apollo. In 1987, Sutton earned the NAACP's Spingarn Medal for his work in media.
Sutton retired in 1991, and in 1992 a nonprofit foundation took over the Apollo after Sutton could no longer afford to maintain the building. It continues to run as a concert hall and national landmark. Although he wasn't officially working in politics anymore, President Bill Clinton tapped Sutton, along with several other politicians, to attend meetings with the Group of Seven Nations in 1995.
Percy Sutton died on December 26, 2009, at the age of 89.
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