A funeral is set for 11 a.m. Thursday for U.S. District Judge Matthew J. Perry, a giant of a civil rights lawyer who toiled relentlessly to dismantle legal segregation in South Carolina and then went on to become the state’s first black federal judge. Perry died of natural causes Friday just days before his 90th birthday. His body was discovered at his home on Sunday by a family friend. At his death, he was serving as a senior U.S. District Court judge, working every weekday in the downtown Columbia courthouse that was dedicated in April 2004 and bears his name.
The funeral, which will be held at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, is expected to draw hundreds of mourners, including federal judges from across the country, lawyers and judges in South Carolina, current and former law clerks and his many clients, who were involved in sit-ins and demonstrations that marked the 1950s and 1960s civil rights era.
Gov. Nikki Haley has ordered flags at the State House to be lowered to half-staff on the day of his funeral, her spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
The Rev. Charles Jackson Sr., Brookland’s pastor, will deliver the eulogy, said I.S. Leevy Johnson, owner of Leevy’s Funeral Home, which is handling the arrangements. Burial will follow in Greenlawn cemetery at the family plot.
“All of his law clerks will serve as active pallbearers and members of the state and federal judiciary will be honorary pallbearers,” said Johnson. The funeral home is working with the U.S. Marshal’s Service to ensure security at the church, which seats 3,500. Perry’s home church, Zion Baptist, could not seat the anticipated crowd.