NEW YORK - Percy Sutton, 89, a pioneering civil-rights lawyer who represented Malcolm X before launching successful careers as a political power broker and media mogul, died Saturday.
The son of a slave, Mr. Sutton became a fixture on 125th Street in Harlem after moving to New York following his service with the famed Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. His Harlem law office, founded in 1953, represented Malcolm X and the slain activist's family for decades.
A consummate politician, Mr. Sutton served in the New York Assembly before taking over as Manhattan borough president in 1966. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and mayor, and was a political mentor for Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.
Jackson said Mr. Sutton had talked about electing a black president as early as 1972 and had been influential in getting Jackson's 1984 campaign going.
"He never stopped building bridges and laying the groundwork," Jackson said yesterday.
In a statement, President Obama said Mr. Sutton's "lifelong dedication to the fight for civil rights and his career as an entrepreneur and public servant made the rise of countless young African Americans possible."
In 1971, with his brother Oliver, Mr. Sutton bought WLIB-AM, making it the first black-owned radio station in New York City. His Inner City Broadcasting Corp. eventually picked up WBLS-FM, which reigned for years as New York's top-rated radio station, before buying stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, and San Antonio, Texas, between 1978 and 1985.
Among Mr. Sutton's other endeavors was his purchase and renovation of the Apollo Theater when the Harlem landmark's demise appeared imminent.
Mr. Sutton was born in San Antonio, the youngest of 15 children. His father, Samuel, who had been born into slavery just before the Civil War, became principal at a segregated San Antonio high school and made education a priority: All 12 surviving children attended college.
When World War II arrived, Southern white recruiters rebuffed Mr. Sutton's enlistment attempts. He went to New York, where he was accepted.
After the war, he earned a law degree in New York while working as a post office clerk and a subway conductor.
He served again as an Air Force intelligence officer during the Korean War, then returned to Harlem and established his law office with his brother and a third partner, George Covington.
The firm handled the cases of more than 200 defendants arrested in the South during the 1963-64 civil-rights marches.
Mr. Sutton was elected to the legislature in 1965, and his charisma and eloquence led to his selection as Manhattan president. In 1968, he announced a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Jacob Javits, but pulled out of the Democratic primary to back Paul O'Dwyer.
He remained in his Manhattan job through 1977, the year he launched a campaign for mayor that ended with Edward I. Koch's defeating six competitors for the Democratic nomination.
In addition to his radio holdings, Mr. Sutton led a group that owned the Amsterdam News, the second-largest black weekly in the country. The paper was later sold.
Mr. Sutton "retired" in 1991, but his work as an adviser, a mentor, and a confidant to politicians and businessmen never abated.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that flags on city buildings would be lowered in Mr. Sutton's honor.