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Percy Sutton, 1920-2009

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On June 8, 1961, a Thursday, Percy Sutton flew from Montgomery, AL, to Jackson, MS. Traveling with him was Mark Lane, then a New York state assemblyman. On arrival at the Jackson airport, the two were arrested “as they entered white rest room facilities,” according to an account in a local paper. Sutton was 40 years old.

From the New York Times obituary:

Percy Sutton, who displayed fierce intelligence and exquisite polish in becoming one of the nation’s most prominent black political and business leaders, died on Saturday, The Associated Press reported. He was 89. . . .

Mr. Sutton stood proudly at the center of his race’s epochal struggle for equal rights. He was arrested as a freedom rider; represented Malcolm X as young lawyer; rescued the fabled Apollo Theater in Harlem; and became a millionaire tycoon in the communications business to give public voice to African Americans.

He was also an eminent politician in New York City, rising from the Democratic clubhouses of Harlem to become the longest serving Manhattan borough president and, for more than a decade, the highest black official in the city. In 1977, he was the first seriously regarded black candidate for mayor.

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