Percy Sutton is the most famous member of a Black family of free Blacks held back by racism but not held back by the economic chains of American slavery.
What Percy Sutton did might be considered normal for a Jewish American, Italian American or Irish American.
Ingrid Jones, former Coatesville City Councilperson, former employee of Senator Andy Dinniman. Ingrid sat in front of Hillary & Bill Clinton at her Uncle Percy Sutton’s funeral.
"Mr. Sutton sometimes recalled how his father would not let his children play in a segregated San Antonio park on the one day of the year that they were allowed in — on June 19, the anniversary of Texas’s implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation.
But Mr. Sutton also remembered something else he had learned from his father: 'Suffer the hurts, but don’t show the anger, because if you do, it will block you from being able to effectively do anything to remove the hurts.”
Early life, military service, education, and family
Sutton was born in San Antonio, Texas, the youngest of fifteen children born to Samuel Johnson ("S.J.") Sutton and his wife, Lillian.
His father, an early civil-rights activist, was one of the first blacks in Bexar County, Texas, and used the initials "S.J." for fear it would be shortened to Sambo. In addition to being a full-time educator, S.J. farmed, sold real estate and owned a mattress factory, funeral home and skating rink.
Sutton's siblings included G. J. Sutton, who became the first black elected official in San Antonio, and Oliver Sutton, a judge on the New York Supreme Court.
At age twelve, Percy stowed away on a passenger train to New York City, where he slept under a sign on 155th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of the Manhattanborough of the city. Ironically, his oldest sister, Lillian Sutton Taylor who was 20 years his senior, was attending Columbia Teacher's College at the time. His oldest brother John Sutton, a food scientist who had studied under George Washington Carver, and also in Russia, was living in New York at the time Percy arrived there. His family clearly had resources, a sense of adventure and determination during a time when many African-Americans were extremely limited in options.
His family was committed to civil rights, and he bristled at prejudice. At age thirteen, while passing out leaflets in an all-white neighborhood for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was beaten by a policeman.
He joined the Boy Scouts of America and attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 1936 and was recognized with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as an adult. Sutton stated that scouting was a key factor in shaping his life. Percy and Leatrice Sutton married in 1943. He later took up stunt-flying on the barnstorming circuit, but gave it up after a friend crashed.
During World War II, he served as an intelligence officer with the Tuskegee Airmen – the popular name of a group of African American pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces. He won combat stars in the Italian and Mediterranean theaters.
Sutton attended [clarification needed] Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas; the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama; and the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia without receiving a degree. He went on to attend Columbia Law School and then Brooklyn Law School.
Legal, business, and political career
During the 1950s and 1960s, Sutton became one of America's best-known lawyers.He represented many controversial figures, such as Malcolm X. After the murder of Malcolm X in 1965, Sutton and his brother Oliver helped to cover the expenses of his widow, Betty Shabazz.
Sutton's civil-rights advocacy took him even further in the minds of many. Being jailed with Stokely Carmichael and other activists endeared him to the Harlem community and showed many that he was willing to place himself in harm's way for his client's sake.[clarification needed]
Sutton was a longtime leader in Harlem politics, and was a leader of the Harlem Clubhouse, also known as the "Gang of Four". The Clubhouse has dominated Democratic politics in Harlem since the 1960s. His allies in running the Clubhouse were New York City Mayor David Dinkins, U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, and New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson – whose son, David Paterson, became New York Governor in 2008. He also was a life member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1965 and 1966. On September 13, 1966, he was elected Borough President of Manhattan, to fill the vacancy caused by the appointment of Constance Baker Motley to the federal bench. He served in that post until 1977, when he ran for the Democratic nomination for New York City Mayor against Bella Abzug, a former U.S. Representative; U.S. Representative Herman Badillo; incumbent New York City Mayor Abraham Beame; New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo; and U.S. Representative Ed Koch; Koch won the nomination and the general election.
In his race for mayor, Sutton surprised his liberal political base when he turned temporarily to the right. He assailed the rising crime rate, as he termed the situation "a city turned sick with the fear of crime". He attacked criminals for "cheating, stealing, and driving away our families and our jobs."
In 1971, Sutton cofounded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation which purchased New York City's WLIB-AM, the city's first African-American-owned radio station.
Sutton served in the New York City Police Department Auxiliary Police during the late 1970s.
Sutton produced It's Showtime at the Apollo, a syndicated, music television show first broadcast on September 12, 1987.