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Oliver Sutton's grave marker
*Oliver Sutton was born on this date in 1916. He was a Black attorney and judge.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, he was the last of fifteen children born to Samuel ("S.J.") Sutton and Lillian Sutton. His father was born a slave and became an early 20th-century American civil-rights activist. He was one of the first blacks in Bexar County, Texas, and used the initials "S.J." for fear it would be shortened to Sambo. His father was a principal of a segregated high school in San Antonio, farmed, sold real estate, and owned a mattress factory, funeral home, and skating rink, and his mother was a teacher. All of his siblings graduated from college. His brothers included G.J. Sutton, the first Black elected official in San Antonio, and Percy Sutton of New York.
Young Sutton milked cows and rode around San Antonio with his father in the same Studebaker vehicle used for funerals and distributing milk to the poor. He liked to attach strings to cans to pretend to be a radio broadcaster. At age twelve, he stowed away on a passenger train to New York City, New York, where he slept under a sign on 155th Street in Harlem. At age thirteen, while passing out leaflets in an all-white neighborhood for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was beaten by a policeman. He was a Boy Scout and attained the rank of Eagle Scout in 1936 and was recognized with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award as an adult. Sutton stated that scouting was a key factor in shaping his life. He married Leatrice Sutton in 1943.
He briefly took up stunt-flying on the barnstorming circuit but gave it up after a friend crashed. Later, during World War II, he served as an intelligence officer with the Tuskegee Airmen. He won combat stars in the Italian and Mediterranean theaters. Sutton attended Prairie View A&M University, Tuskegee Institute, and the Hampton Institute. He went on to attend Brooklyn Law School in New York City. In 1949, he joined his brother Percy in law practice in New York City. In the 1970s, he was appointed New York civil court judge and elected to a full term in 1977. Soon after being elected judge of the New York Supreme Court for a 14-year term, he retired in 1981. He also was chairman of the Inner-city Broadcasting Corporation. Oliver Sutton died on July 16, 1983.