It is difficult for children in Kershaw County today to even imagine the Jim Crow era, when African-Americans had to use separate bathrooms, couldn’t eat in most restaurants, endured poor facilities and often had a difficult time even voting. That was just a bit more than a generation ago, and one of the towering figures who fought such injustices was Matthew Perry, who died earlier this week at age 89.
Perry’s achievements in South Carolina are too lengthy to list here, but as an attorney he was instrumental in countless civil rights cases, and he established himself as a firm yet unstrident attorney, often winning over his legal adversaries with his immense knowledge of the law, his gentlemanly manner and his ability to deal in a reasonable way with everyone. Perry’s efforts were one of the primary reasons that South Carolina was able to move through that era with less violence and tension than some other states in the Deep South. His courtroom work was legendary, but just as important was his ability to get along with people and his acumen in knowing just which directions to go.
Perry later became a federal judge and dispensed his wisdom not only to lawyers in a formal setting but also in mentoring them and guiding them on a path to success. He became as widely respected as anyone in this state, and he leaves a proud legacy that will live on. Today’s children might not be able to imagine exactly how difficult things were when Perry began his efforts, but in large measure they have him to thank for civil rights advances in South Carolina.