West Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Family and friends said goodbye to a civil rights pioneer Thursday as Judge Matthew Perry, South Carolina's first African-American federal judge, was laid to rest.
Perry died over the weekend just a few days shy of his 90th birthday.
Hundreds packed the pews at Brookland Baptist Church to pay their respects to Judge Perry.
"Judge Perry's one of the most important South Carolinians in my lifetime and he's the one person that I can that I can think of that it is impossible to overstate the importance of the role that he played in South Carolina," said Dwight Drake.
Tears and laughter filled the service as friends and colleagues shared experiences of what one called Perry's work to make South Carolina better, even when the state didn't want to change.
Many called him a teacher who opened doors for others and perused equality but remained humble and grounded.
"You never would think that he had done the things that he'd done, just meeting him because he never fronted anything. As far a I can remember from being a little boy he was just a good person, my mother and father respected him even in high school," said Joseph Wilson.
Local, state, and national lawmakers and elected officials attended the services along with Governor Nikki Haley. State Representative David Mack from Charleston County said Perry paved the way for African-American across South Carolina.
"We had to come, any member of the South Carolina legislature, who's African-American, we owe our existence the opportunity to serve to Matthew Perry," Mack said.
At Thursday's service, Sixth District Congressman James Clyburn called Perry "brilliant" and "inspirational." He also shared a story of his mother taking him to hear Perry argue a case for the Sumter County NAACP.
"Matthew Perry was a young man just a few years out of law school, but in his defense of the Sumter County branch he took command of the courtroom. He electrified the courtroom. But he lost the case, not because he wasn't persuasive, not because he wasn't on the right side, not because justice was being served. He lost because of the folkways and mores of the times. But Matthew's performance during that trial won the hearts and minds of all those who witnessed him in action. Friends and foe...and those folkways and mores began to change," said Clyburn.
The congressman also sent condolences from President Barack Obama. Clyburn said he was working to have Perry meet with Obama in the Oval Office this week. He then read a letter offering condolences from Obama to the Perry family.
Former Senator Fritz Hollings also gave remarks at the services. He recalled
"He was made to sit in the gallery, in the balcony. Before his case was tried they wouldn't let him on the floor and then he had to wait for the other side to present their case," said Hollings. "When he finally came down to argue, he was run off the road, put in jail. He suffered every abuse every indignity, but always responded with that sweet smile."
Many of Perry's fraternity brothers attended the services. Tony Grant said Perry was recently honored by Omega Psi Phi for his legal and civic works.
"He loved people, he loved justice, he loved doing the right thing," said Grant.
Leaving a legacy behind to inspire generations through his life, his courage and his leadership.