Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute
U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Perry, Dead at 89
August 03, 2011

When Matthew J. Perry began his career as a civil rights lawyer, he was treated as a second-class citizen in segregated courtrooms. Two days before his body was found, Perry went to work in a federal courthouse in Columbia named in his honor. "He is the only militant civil rights figure I know of who seems to be loved and respected by both racial groups while still engaged in the struggle," wrote Robert Carter, a U.S. District Judge in New York in the book "Matthew J. Perry: The Man, His Times, And His Legacy."

Perry was born in Columbia, South Carolina on 3 August 1921. His father, who worked at a tailor, died when Matthew was 12 years old. Perry was raised by his mother and grandfather who would forever be the most influential people in Perry's life. While serving in World War Two, Perry experienced the depth and cruelty of racism when he was made to eat outside of a restaurant which gladly served enemy prisoners of war inside. This experience forged Perry's dedication to the civil rights struggle. After the war, Perry enrolled at South Carolina State's law school and became the first graduate to pass the bar. Perry first made a name for himself as a civil rights lawyer when he represented Harvey Grant, the first black student to attend Clemson University. "Matthew personified the black lawyer of the 1950s and 1960s — courageous, articulate and persuasive," said former state Chief Justice Ernest Finney. Perry retired in 1955 but continued to hear cases up until his passing.

 

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