Matthew Perry

Judge, lawyer and civil rights activist

Matthew J. Perry Jr. (1921-2011), from Columbia, South Carolina, graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1939 and then attended South Carolina State University. He served in World War II, then earned his law degree from S.C. State in 1951. Perry opened his own law practice in Spartanburg, SC, as the lone African American lawyer in the city, and tried cases before hostile judges. As chief legal strategist for the S.C. NAACP, he defended thousands of student Civil Rights activists and won all 11 cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, including a landmark First Amendment case, Edwards v. S.C. In 1979, Perry was appointed the state’s first African American federal judge. Perry’s legal work played a central role in almost every South Carolina Civil Rights case from 1956 to 1975. In 2004, the new U.S. District Courthouse in Columbia was named in his honor.

Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library

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