In Memory of Matthew J. Perry, US District Judge and Towering Civil Rights Leader.

Judge Matthew J. Perry Judge Matthew J. Perry was one of the first African American men from the South appointed to a federal court and he was the first African American appointed as a South Carolina federal district judge (1979). At the time of his death, he was still serving as a senior U.S. District Court judge for the state of South Carolina.

"Matthew Perry, an iron fist in a velvet glove – courteous, polite, even jocular … but unshakably determined." — Walter Edgar, South Carolina Historian

Judge Perry was South Carolina’s preeminent civil rights attorney. As a young civil rights lawyer, Perry was instrumental in achieving many successes for African Americans. He tried cases which led to the integration of beaches, parks, restaurants, and public schools. In 1963, he won the case which forced Clemson University to admit black students.

Over his illustrious career, Judge Perry had been honored with several honorary degrees including, Doctor of Laws degrees from South Carolina State College, the University of South Carolina, and Voorhees College; and Doctor of Humanities degrees from Francis Marion College and Lander College. In addition to these honors, Judge Perry was awarded The Order of the Palmetto by Governor Richard W. Riley of South Carolina (June 9, 1986), the Distinguished Alumnus Award-South Carolina State University (1972, 1980), the South Carolinian of the Year (1977), the William R. Ming Advocacy Award (recognizing outstanding skills and successes as a lawyer representing causes espoused by the NAACP), and the Distinguished Native Son Award-South Carolina Conference of Branches, NAACP (1967).

W. Lewis Burke, Professor at the USC School of Law stated, "Matthew Perry was the most important lawyer in the history of our state. As the leading civil rights lawyer in South Carolina, he helped transform our society and made South Carolina a better place to live for all the people. While he was a giant in every way, he was a modest man whose personality made him a friend to everyone he met. As a judge for 35 years he had no peer. His keen intellect and deep compassion made him the kind of judge that everyone who aspires to serve in the judiciary should emulate."


Also of interest…

  • In this video interview USC student Haden Choiniere and Judge Matthew Perry, give a brief history of his contributions to Civil Rights in South Carolina. Watch the video …
  • Walter Edgar inderviews Judge Perry (2001) about his youth in a segregated South Carolina, struggles with the separate educational system, and his part in helping to break down the color barrier. Listen to the interview …
  • Judge Matthew Perry, former Senator "Fritz" Hollings, and Congressman James Clyburn speak at the dedication of The Matthew J. Perry Jr. United States Courthouse. Watch the video …
  • Dr. Gloria (Rackley) Blackwell was active in the NAACP Youth Council at Claflin College. She was most noted for her lawsuit against the Orangeburg Hospital where she was arrested for refusing to leave a white waiting room. In this video she talks about Matthew Perry, the attorney for her case. Watch the video …
  • M.J. Perry Jr., Legal Pioneer. The New York Times.

Judge Matthew J. Perry Jr.

August 3, 1921 – July 29, 2011

"While he was a giant in every way, he was a modest man whose personality made him a friend to everyone he met. As a judge for 35 years he had no peer. His keen intellect and deep compassion made him the kind of judge that everyone who aspires to serve in the judiciary should emulate." — W. Lewis Burke, Professor at the USC School of Law

Order of service (PDF): Reflections of the Life of Matthew J. Perry, Jr.

Birthplace: Columbia, SC

Military Service: U.S. Army (1942-45), Sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps. Served in England, France, Belgium and Germany in an all-black unit.

Education: Waverly School (elementary); Booker T. Washington High School; B.S. in Business Administration, S.C. State College (1939-41 and 1946-48); Degree in Law, S.C. State (1948-51).

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