“He was a renaissance black man”

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2009 at 12:59 pm

In a blog I wrote earlier this year, I asked what do renaissance men wear? Can you tell a renaissance man by the clothes he wears? Can you tell a renaissance man by his demeanor, his character, or the words that part from his lips? Exactly what does the renaissance man look like? I would have to say that Percy Sutton was the epitome of such.

Yesterday, Mr. Sutton passed away at age 89. For Philip Bulgar, an assistant manager of Manna’s Soul Food in New York, Mr. Sutton was a “renaissance black man. They don’t make too many brothers like that anymore.” Mr. Sutton was arrested in Mississippi and Alabama during the turbulent 1960s “as a Freedom Rider…[he] once described himself as ‘an evolutionist rather than a revolutionist’ in matters of race. ‘You ought always to keep the lines of communication open with those with whom you disagree.'” Whether politics or media, Mr. Sutton’s influence was undeniable.

But of all his endeavors or causes involved in, Mr. Sutton helped preserve history as well as the future for many entertainers with the renovation of the Apollo Theater in the 1980s. As a youth, the highlight of my weekends centered around “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” a syndicated program where common, everyday folk who had a talent, usually musical, came to display it for the world. But the show also was an avenue for many of the professional entertainers to showcase their talent, their skill. Mr. Sutton was a visionary as well as an historian. He understood the history of Apollo, but he also saw the role the theater could play in the Harlem of the future. In an interview in the New York Times, Rev. Al Sharpton saw Mr. Sutton’s business venture as “the centerpiece of the economic regeneration of Harlem.”

In a tribute to Mr. Sutton, the Apollo’s marquee said what many of us feel: “We are forever grateful.”


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