Columbia Remembers Judge Matthew Perry

6:37 PM, Aug 1, 2011   |    comments
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Matthew Perry

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Funeral services will take place this Thursday for Judge Matthew Perry, who died over the weekend at age 89.

He's most widely known for his years of fighting segregation in the 1950's and 60's. The federal courthouse in Columbia was dedicated in his name in 2004.

"He was a very caring person, he was one that served others, he was humble in sprit, and he was very very encouraging," said Columbia Urban League President J.T. McLawhorn.

Flags across the city waved at half staff at government buildings in honor of the state's first African-American U.S. district court judge.

During his life, Perry fought for civil rights, winning a case that integrated Clemson University in 1963. He also tried a discrimination case involving a woman arrested for waiting in a "whites only" waiting room in an Orangeburg hospital in 1961.

McLawhorn says Perry helped found the Columbia Urban League, expanding his dream for justice and while Perry worked as a lawyer and judge, McLawhorn says he knew that the work didn't stop outside courtroom.

"I think it really emphasized his vision and his understanding of how you can really make equal opportunity a reality," said McLawhorn.

Tom Turnipseed, a Columbia attorney, also spent time working for racial justice, but says he wasn't always that way. He acknowledges that he used to be racist, but knowing Perry helped him change his views.

"It was guys like him Matthew Perry, that you know, inspired me to change, others too but him in particular," said Turnipseed.

In the fifties, even when trying cases, Perry would sometimes have to sit in the balcony with other African-Americans until his case came up.

Turnipseed remembers those days, and says Perry still wouldn't let the segregation get him down.

"I'm sure he felt bad about having to having to do that, but he wouldn't let it embitter him to the point that he couldn't interact in a nice respectful way with people that wanted him to keep sitting in the balcony," said Turnipseed.

McLawhorn agrees, saying Perry operated under a peaceful, Martin Luther King Jr. type of doctrine. It was a manner and attitude that allowed him to make an impact on the world around him.

"I think his legacy is is one that showed tremendous strength and courage standing up for the rights of others," said McLawhorn. "He was not afraid to fight for progress. I think when you look at his history, he has a history of fight, and he had courage."

Services for Judge Perry will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Brookland Baptist Church on Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia.

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