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South Carolina Federal Judge Matthew Perry Dies at Age 89

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 02, 2011 1:38 PM

U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Perry was found dead on Sunday. He would have turned 90 this week.

Perry, appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, was one of the first black men from the South appointed to a federal court. He was still serving as a senior U.S. District Court judge for South Carolina at the time of his death.

Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin remembered Perry as "a shining example of unflinching courage and leadership. Simply put, he was a giant and this world will be a lesser place without him," reports The State.

Perry began practicing law after graduating from South Carolina State University's law school in 1951; he was the second African-American attorney admitted to practice by the S.C. Supreme Court in the county. In 1976, Strom Thurmond nominated Perry to the U.S. Military Court of Appeals, making him the second African-American man with that distinction.

Perry had a long history as a civil rights advocate in South Carolina, including work on school desegregation. Perry was also on the legal team that secured a victory for Sarah Mae Flemming in the Fourth Circuit Court for Appeals. The Flemming case, a bus segregation case in South Carolina, set a precedent that later supported Rosa Parks in a similar case, in Montgomery, Alabama. Perry even argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning four out of five cases.

In 2004, the federal courthouse in Columbia, S.C. where Perry presided, was named in his honor. Perry went to work at that courthouse on Friday, and died of natural causes later that evening at his home.

Judge Matthew Perry was to be honored this weekend in Hilton Head at a South Carolina trial lawyers celebration. His funeral is set for 11 a.m. EST on Thursday, August 4.

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