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Wed, 08.03.1921

Matthew J. Perry, Lawyer born

Matthew J. Perry

*Matthew J. Perry Jr. was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black attorney and judge.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Matthew James Perry Jr. attended local segregated schools and started studying business. During World War II in the United States Army, he served from 1943 to 1946. He finished college after the war, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from South Carolina State University in 1948. He went on to earn a Juris Doctor from South Carolina State University School of Law in 1951. He was in private practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina, from 1951 to 1961.

Moving to the state capital of Columbia, 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, a black teacher in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Perry insisted that he be allowed to build the case around racial discrimination. He led the successful court case in 1963 for Harvey B. Gantt to integrate Clemson University. Perry also conducted a prominent South Carolina reapportionment case in 1972 to require redistricting to represent urban areas more fairly concerning their population, based on the "one man, one vote" principle.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, numerous state legislatures had not redistricted, although they were required to review apportionment after every decennial census. He won over everyone he encountered in the litigation process, including opponents. Former Clemson President Robert Cook Edwards stated, "Matthew Perry's gentle personality and character were the ingredients that made it (the peaceful integration of Clemson) possible to happen without bloodshed."  Perry was the first black lawyer from the Deep South 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. Senator Strom Thurmond supported Perry's nomination. Perry briefly dated Thurmond's daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, in 1947. On July 5, 1979, Perry was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina created by 92 Stat. 1629. He was confirmed by the United States Senate in 1979 and received his commission the following day.

He was the first black federal judge in South Carolina. He assumed senior status on October 1, 1995. Matthew Perry was found dead, aged 89, at his home in Columbia on July 31, 2011, by a family member. He died after attending court that day.

To Become a Lawyer
To become a Judge


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