Matthew J. Perry

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For other people with the same name, see Matthew Perry (disambiguation).

Matthew James Perry Jr. (August 4, 1921 – July 29, 2011) was a United States federal judge.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Perry was in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, and then received a Bachelor of Science degree from South Carolina State College in 1948 and an LL.B. from South Carolina State College in 1951. He was in private practice in Spartanburg, South Carolina from 1951 to 1961, and in Columbia from 1961 to 1976. He defended Gloria Blackwell[1] and her daughter Lurma Rackley.[2] He led the successful court case to integrate Clemson University in 1963 and led a major South Carolina reapportionment case in 1972. He ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1974, but lost to Republican incumbent Floyd Spence.

Matthew Perry first made a name for himself as a civil rights attorney. Upon finishing school 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.” [3] He quickly erupted to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement by agreeing to represent Gloria Blackwell, an African American woman who was arrested for sitting in a “whites only” waiting room upon bringing her daughter to the emergency room. Perry insisted that he be allowed to build his case around discrimination and as a result he was subsequently jailed as well for making what the court deemed to be “remarks disrespectful to the court.” [4] The case against Blackwell was eventually dismissed and the hospital was later integrated thanks in part to Perry's efforts.

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." [5] Perry led many landmark civil rights cases, including the case that resulted in the integration of Clemson University through the enrollment and graduation of Harvey B. Gantt, the first African American student to enroll at Clemson University. Perry won the case that forced Clemson University administrators to finally accept and enroll African American students. He also somehow managed to win over everyone he came across in the process, including his own opponents. Former Clemson President Robert Cook Edwards stated that “Matthew Perry’s gentle personality and character were the ingredients that made it (the peaceful integration of Clemson) possible to happen without bloodshed.” [6]

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. Ironically, Perry's nomination was supported by Senator Strom Thurmond, who had run for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat.[7]

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 on September 19, 1979, and received his commission the following day, thereby becoming South Carolina's first African American federal judge. He assumed senior status on October 1, 1995.

Perry was found dead, aged 89, at his home on Sunday July 31, 2011 by a family member where his wife, Hallie, was reportedly in poor health. He was reported to have died on Friday after attending court that day.[8]



  1. ^ Carolyn Click, "Orangeburg civil rights icon, and Claflin alumna Dr. Gloria Rackley Blackwell dies" Claflin University (December 10, 2010). Retrieved June 2, 2011
  2. ^ Richard Reid, "The Gloria Rackley-Blackwell story" The Times and Democrat, (February 22, 2011). Retrieved June 3, 2011
  3. ^ Wallace, Allen: Remembering a Legend: Judge Matthew Perry
  4. ^ Id.
  5. ^ Wallace, Allen. "Remembering a Legend: Judge Matthew Perry ." WLTX- Columbia, SC
  6. ^ Lett , Mark. "A Life of Service To Civil Rights and South Carolina." SC Justice Watch. N.p., 2 Aug 2011. Web. < and-south-carolina/>.
  7. ^ Bass, Jack and Marilyn W. Thompson. Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1998, pp. 281-282.
  8. ^ Dawn Hinshaw (1 August 2011). "S.C. mourns death of civil rights 'giant'". Herald on line.