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Legendary S.C. Judge Mathew Perry Dies

WI Web Staff Report | 8/10/2011, 12:42 p.m.
Perry, was South Carolina's first African-American federal judge. / Courtesy photo.

Family and friends mourned the passing of legendary Judge Mathew J. Perry Jr., who died recently at age 89.

As a young attorney, he tried several cases that led to the integration of South Carolina beaches, parks, restaurants and public schools, according to online reports.

He used his legal prowess to gain the release of thousands of people arrested in protests during the Civil Rights Movement and in 1963, went on to win the case that forced Clemson University to admit African-American students.

Perry, a Charleston native, was born into segregation. He worked his way through South Carolina State College where he earned a business degree , and S.C. State law school which led to him becoming South Carolina's pre-eminent civil rights attorney.

Credited with helping South Carolina achieve peaceful progress in civil rights, Perry also went to become the first federal judge from the Deep South (in 1975), presiding over the U.S. Military Court of Appeals. He was appointed to the bench first by Republican President Gerald Ford, and later by President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, who appointed Perry to the federal bench in South Carolina in 1979.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton named the Federal Courthouse in Columbia in Perry's honor. The $30.1 million Matthew J. Perry Federal Courthouse was dedicated in 2004.

At the time of his death, Perry was serving as a senior U.S. District Court judge, working every weekday in the courthouse named for him.

Perry, who died late last month, was found at his home on by a family friend. A funeral service was held in Columbia, SC.