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Percy Sutton: 1920-2009

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 4:40 p.m.

Percy Sutton was a great man and left a lifelong legacy. His tradition of hard work and perseverance kept him in the forefront of New York City politics, civil rights and business.

I have known Percy Sutton all of my life. My family and the Sutton family have been business associates and friends for many decades. Percy was an early mentor and business partner of my father's as they and several other African-American men put their stamp on the business and political landscape of our city.

When I was born, my father was working for Percy as a National Urban Fellow and soon became the deputy borough president of Manhattan under Sutton's tutelage. Percy was an ambitious young man--as was my father--and together they worked to make sure that there was real opportunity for those who had so often been left out of the equation. They set about pushing the city to provide quality, new housing for uptown residents, and they worked to establish and put businesses and institutions in the hands of Black people.

In a very short period of time in the early 1970s, a group of committed Black investors took control of radio stations, this newspaper and the world-famous Apollo Theater--an unprecedented achievement at the time, of which we, as African-Americans, can be proud.

Percy Sutton was a great man. He was smart, engaging, debonair and a true gentleman. He brought New York to new heights and made sure that Harlem was never forgotten. He came here from Texas, but made New York his home. He had the good sense to marry the love of his life, Leatrice, not once, but twice, and over the decades, he devoted himself to his family and building a media empire that has been an important voice for Black New York for decades.

He was a man who took risks, and his life was an example of what great things one can do if you are a committed race man. His effort to bring back the Apollo was the cornerstone of the revival of 125th Street. It was a particularly proud achievement for him because he always remained a son of Harlem.

He was and always will be the Chairman of the Board, and he is the reason so many of us are where we are today.

We will miss you, Mr. Chairman. Keep the gavel going...