Posted Aug 06, 2007 05:40 pm CDT
A revered South Carolina civil rights lawyer whose career included numerous “firsts” is to be presented by the American Bar Association later this month with its prestigious Thurgood Marshall Award.
To be honored by the ABA at its annual meeting for his “substantial and long-term contributions to the furtherance of civil rights,” Matthew J. Perry Jr. turned 86 on Friday. He became the first African-American judge from the deep South on the federal bench when he was appointed in the mid-1970s to the Court of Military Appeals, reports the State, a South Carolina newspaper. He is now a senior U.S. district judge in Columbia, where a courthouse is named for him.
A tireless advocate for civil rights after he returned home from serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Perry “had a hand in almost every case that integrated South Carolina’s public schools, hospitals, golf courses, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and beaches,” the American Association for Justice notes on a Web page. “He individually tried 6,000 cases, and his work led to the release of some 7,000 people arrested for sit-in protests.”
Perry says the most satisfying case was of his career was helping Harvey Gantt, who was later to be the first black mayor of Charlotte, integrate Clemson University in 1963. Like a number of his other cases, it resulted in death threats to Perry.
He remembers being inspired to pursue civil rights cases after being refused restaurant service as an American soldier, while foreign prisoners of war were seated, his friend, Congressman James E. Clyburn, recalls in a Web posting.
More information about the Marshall award and other ABA honors can be found on an ABA Web page.