Funeral service set for civil rights lawyer, federal judge Perry

Judge Matthew Perry died on Sunday. He was 89. / Courtesy: SC State University

COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Matthew Perry, a civil rights lawyer who went from sitting in the courtroom balcony because he was black to having the federal courthouse in Columbia named in his honor, has died. He was 89.

Perry died on Sunday, according to Leevy's Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.

Perry will forever have a place in South Carolina history.

Judge Perry practiced and litigated during the civil rights era when there was not a black person in the courtroom unless they had a broom in their hand, says Perry TMs former colleague and attorney Hemphill Pride.

Pride worked with Perry during the volatile 1950s and 1960s.

I think that I will always remember Judge Perry's love for the law, Pride states

Perry wasn TMt a judge then, but rather a young attorney with big dreams. He represented thousands of people across the state protesting for equality.

And then he represented the individual plaintiffs in desegregating hospitals, airports, bus stations, restaurants, state parks, and of course the public schools, according to USC Law School professor Lewis Burke.

Burke had the opportunity to meet Perry several years ago when he was helping to write a book about his life.

He accomplished more than any other lawyer has conceived to ever accomplish in this state, Burke adds.

Perry's dream came true in 1979. He was appointed to serve for the U.S. District Court, where he remained until he died.

The news of his passing was a surprise for some.

I just couldn't believe it happened, says Perry TMs barber Herbert Toliver.

Toliver cut Perry's hair for five years. He was scheduled to come in this week for a trim.

If you didn't know he was a judge, you could not tell by his personality.

Toliver adds he will never forget his longtime client and the lessons on life Perry taught him.

J.T. McLawhorn of the Columbia Urban League says Perry was a caring, charismatic and courageous person.

He is a blueprint for those who are interested in making a difference in the quality of life for others, McLawhorn said.\

Although Perry may be gone, his life which he dedicated to the community, will never be forgotten.

Many local leaders also are remembering Judge Perry.

"Judge Perry was not only a first class legal mind and groundbreaking Jurist, he was a shining example of unflinching courage and leadership. Simply put, he was a giant and this world will be a lesser place without him. I was honored to have him administer my oath of office just over a year ago and I will miss him deeply," Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a release.

Columbia Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine posted on her Twitter account, "Saddened to learn about the passing of Judge Matthew J. Perry. We have lost a giant but his legacy lives on."

State Representative James Smith also took to Twitter posting, "Saddened by the passing of Honorable Matthew Perry, heartened by his selfless service. Our world is a better place because of his courage and integrity."

The City of Columbia will fly flags at half-mast until further notice.

Funeral arrangements for Perry are set for Thursday at 11 a.m. at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia. Perry will be buried following the service at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)