October 23, 2012

IRR News Report

Spring 2007

Hon. Matthew J. Perry, Jr. to Receive 2007 Thurgood Marshall Award

Matthew J. Perry, Jr., South Carolina’s first African American U.S. District Court judge, will receive the Section’s 2007 Thurgood Marshall Award in recognition of his outstanding commitment to the preservation and expansion of civil rights for all Americans.

As one of the most accomplished jurists in South Carolina, Judge Perry has played a central role in almost every case that integrated South Carolina's public schools, hospitals, golf courses, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and beaches.  He has individually tried over 6,000 cases, and his work led to the release of nearly 7,000 people arrested for protesting various forms of segregation. In 1976, Judge Perry became the first black lawyer from the deep south to be appointed to a federal bench -- first on the United States Military Court of Appeals and since 1979 on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, where he continues to serve today on senior status.

Judge Perry began his career as the only black attorney in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He eventually opened a law office with fellow attorney Lincoln Jenkins, Jr. and in 1956, pursued what would be his first civil rights case, Flemming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas Co., in which he sued a bus company after an African American woman, Sarah Mae Flemming, was struck by a bus driver for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Although Jenkins and Perry lost in lower court, Ms. Flemming later prevailed under the counsel of the NAACP.

In another famous case, Judge Perry successfully litigated the integration of Clemson University when Harvey B. Gantt, who later became the first African American mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, was denied admission to the school based on race.

In 2004, The Matthew J. Perry, Jr. United States Courthouse in Columbia, South Carolina was named in his honor through the efforts of Congressman James E. Clyburn, who remarked during the opening ceremony, “When I arrived in Congress, the first piece of legislation I introduced was to name the federal courthouse planned for Columbia in his honor.  In 2004, we dedicated [the Courthouse], in the shadow of his birthplace that was once cloaked in the scourge of segregation. This new era in South Carolina was brought about in large measure by the dogged determination of Matthew Perry and his unbending faith that justice will prevail.  His vision and veracity led him to challenge the Jim Crow laws of his time, and succeeded in providing faith and hope to an entire generation of South Carolinians.”

The Thurgood Marshall Award will be presented during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California on Saturday, August 11, at the Westin St. Francis Hotel.