November 1990

Justice Matthew Perry

Judge

Justice Matthew Perry

The story of Judge Matthew James Perry, Jr. is a remarkable one. Although faced with many hardships, Perry became a distinguished attorney in South Carolina and caught the eye of President Jimmy Carter who named him federal district judge for South Carolina in 1979. Born on August 3, 1921, he attended Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia. Following the death of his father when he was 12, Matthew was raised by his mother and his grandfather, a strict disciplinarian. In 1939, he began working part-time jobs to pay for his tuition at South Carolina State College. He served in the US Army during World War II and completed his education with a degree in business administration in 1948. He earned a law degree form South Carolina State College in 1951. As a young civil rights lawyer, Perry was instrumental in achieving many successes for African-Americans. He tried cases which let to the integration of beaches, parks, restaurants, and public schools. His trial work led to the release of some 7,000 people arrested for sit-in protests. In 1963, he won the case which forced Clemson University to admit black students. Perhaps his most significant case resulted in the reapportionment of the SC House of Representatives. Perry waged an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1974. In 1975, he was appointed to the US Military Court of Appeals, and a year later WIS-TV of Columbia named him South Carolianian of the Year.