Flags in Manhattan and across the city will fly at half-staff on Monday to honor Percy Sutton, the groundbreaking Harlem leader who died this weekend at age 89.
Sutton, the son of a former slave, was the longest serving Manhattan borough president and for many years was the highest-ranking black elected official in the city, passed away in a Manhattan nursing home on Saturday.
"New York has always been a city of trailblazers, but few have opened more doors for more people than Percy Sutton did," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
In city politics, Sutton was known as the senior member of a group of Harlem politicians known as the Gang of Four. The others were former Mayor David Dinkins, Rep. Charlie Rangel and Basil Paterson, a state senator and secretary of state who's the father of Gov. David Paterson.
“It was Percy Sutton who talked me into running for office, and who has continued to serve as one of my most valued advisers ever since,” Gov. Paterson said in a statement.
Sutton's career was full of highlights.
He served as an intelligence officer with the famed all-black Army Air Forces unit known as the Tuskeegee Airmen during World War II, the Times reported. In the 1960s during the civil rights movement, he was arrested as a Freedom Rider and, as a lawyer, represented Malcolm X.
In 1966, he was chosen by the City Council to replace Constance Baker Motley as Manhattan borough president, and was elected that year to serve out her term, and was reelected twice.
In 1977, Sutton ran for mayor and was the first serious black candidate for the office. He finished fifth in a seven-way race, but was widely regarded for paving the way for Dinkins' victory in 1989.
“I stand on the shoulders of Percy Ellis Sutton,” Dinkins once said, according to the Times.
In 1981, Sutton headed a group that bought the famous Apollo Theater, which at the time was under threat of being torn down.
Over the weekend, prominent politicians praised Sutton and his legacy.
"His 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," President Obama said, according to the New York Post.
"When there was a crisis, you could always call him for counsel and support," Rev. Al Sharpton, according to the News. "I don't know what we'll do without his guiding hand."