In Harlem, Reflections on the Life of Percy Sutton

The New York Times - He was hailed as Harlem’s king or its chairman, the eloquent author of some of its prouder moments, the dapper mentor to its sons and daughters. As news of Percy E. Sutton’s death spread on Sunday, the sadness spanned generations and city blocks, from Mr. Sutton’s home on 135th Street to the threshold of the Apollo, that cultural heart of Harlem that Mr. Sutton brought back to life.

“He was a renaissance black man,” said Philip Bulgar, 45, an assistant manager at Manna’s Soul Food Restaurant, summing up a life too rich for anyone to fully recall. That did not stop anyone from trying. “They don’t make too many brothers like that anymore,” Mr. Bulgar said.

Mr. Sutton died on Saturday at age 89. He had been a Tuskegee airman, Malcolm X’s lawyer, the Manhattan borough president and a media mogul.

On Sunday, Harlem’s residents peppered that legend with more personal recollections of Mr. Sutton: as a neighbor giving advice, a quiet guest at a funeral, a dapper fixture on the streets of Harlem, who dressed down only when he got to his country house and sat on his tractor.

Several people who were about Mr. Sutton’s age said they were too sad to talk. Betty Harvey, who lived in Mr. Sutton’s building, said she remembered him on a megaphone during the blackout of 1977, bringing people together and telling them to direct traffic. “He did all that he could,” she said.

Gabrielle Baker, 52, who attended services at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on Sunday, said Mr. Sutton was part of the generation of leaders who built Harlem.

“When they start to go,” she said, “it’s almost like our families are passing.” Read more.


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