Matthew J. Perry, was Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1921. Perry, who excelled academically, attended local segregated schools and started college, at historically black South Carolina State College, located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, studying business.
He served during World War II in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. He finished college after the war, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from South Carolina State College in 1948.
When finishing his undergraduate degree after WWII, Perry concluded that he needed to learn and practice law, due to "a growing awareness of racial injustices, many of them manifested by state laws.
He went on to earn a law degree (LL.B.) from South Carolina State College in 1951.
He was in private practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina from 1951 to 1961.
Moving to the state capital of Columbia, South Carolina, Perry was in private practice from 1961 to 1976. He built his reputation as a civil rights attorney in the 1960s.
He gained notoriety by representing Gloria Blackwell, an African-American teacher in Orangeburg, South Carolina, who was arrested with her daughter Lurma Rackley for sitting in a “whites only” waiting room while awaiting emergency treatment for the girl.
Perry insisted that he be allowed to build the case around racial discrimination.
He was charged with contempt and briefly jailed for making what the court deemed to be “remarks disrespectful to the court.” The case against Blackwell was eventually dismissed by the court, and the hospital was integrated thanks in part to Perry's efforts.
Perry led the successful court case in 1963 for Harvey B. Gantt to integrate then all-white Clemson University. Gantt successfully enrolled and graduated.
In 1974, Matthew Perry ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost to incumbent Republican Floyd Spence.
Chief United States District Judge Joseph Anderson once wrote… "to say that Matthew Perry was good in the courtroom is like saying Mickey Mantle knew how to swing a bat . . . Aristotle taught that lawyers and judges should be the very personification of justice. Matthew J. Perry Jr. comes as close as any person I have known to meeting Aristotle's ideal."
Matthew Perry was the first African American lawyer from the Deep South to be appointed to the federal judiciary.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford appointed Perry to the United States Military Court of Appeals (now the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces) in Washington, D.C. Perry's nomination was even supported by Senator Strom Thurmond, who at the time, was known for being a “segregationist” and “Dixiecrat”.
In 1979, Perry was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.
He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 19, 1979, and received his commission the following day. He was the first African-American federal judge in South Carolina.
He assumed senior status on October 1, 1995 and continued to be active at court, until his death in 2011.
In 2004, a new federal courthouse in Columbia, South Carolina was named for him.