Matthew J. Perry, Jr. is considered the leading civil rights attorney in South Carolina during the decades of the 1950s, 60s and 70s and was involved in seemingly every case serving to integrate South Carolina's public schools, hospitals, restaurants, parks, playgrounds, and beaches. He individually tried 6,000 cases, and his work led to the release of some 7,000 people arrested for sit-in protests. In 1975, Perry became the first black lawyer from the Deep South to be appointed to the federal bench and, in 1979, Judge Perry was appointed to the United States District Court in South Carolina, later serving as senior judge for which he continues to serve in that capacity today. In 2004, the Federal Courthouse in Columbia was named the Matthew J. Perry, Jr. Courthouse.
The University of South Carolina Museum of Education
Chester C. Travelstead Award for Courage in Education
presented to Matthew J. Perry, Jr.
in recognition of his leadership in South Carolina to further the values of integrity, intellectual spirit, justice, and stewardship and, in so doing, allowing schools to become more compassionate, more generous, more humane, and more thoughtful.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Maya Angelou
The Travelstead Incident
“Here and now, in the summer of 1955, we find ourselves faced with the necessity of making many momentous decisions with respect to the schools in this country. Perhaps at no other time in the history of education has so great a sense of gravity and urgency characterized the action concerning schools which is being taken and which must be taken in the near future.”
This statement from a speech, “Today’s Decision for Tomorrow’s Schools,” by the Dean of the USC School of Education, Chester C. Travelstead, expressed his support for the Brown and Briggs v Elliott decisions. Travelstead went on to say, “Education takes place in many ways. Our children can be educated to deceit and chicanery, as well as they can be educated to integrity and loyalty. This education, of course, is not confined to the schools or homes. These children learn from everything they see and hear. In this crucial matter which faces us all in 1955, our children will learn much by observation of our words and deeds.”
Three weeks later, he received a letter from the USC Board of Trustees dismissing him from the university. He was subsequently hired by the University of New Mexico as dean of education, and Newsweek magazine, in 1955, reported, “the president of the New Mexico institution, said: ‘Dr. Travelstead’s troubles in South Carolina were more of a recommendation than an indictment.’” Travelstead stayed for the remainder of his career at the University of New Mexico, ultimately serving as the provost of that institution.
Reflecting upon this incident in 1983, Dr. Travelstead wrote, “What happened to me personally in South Carolina in 1955 is not highly important—except to me; but it was both illustrative and symbolic of the turmoil in the Deep South at mid-century. And this event, if put in proper perspective, could serve as a warning about what can and does happen to people when the rights, hopes, and opportunities for any group—or for even one person—are thwarted or violated. As for me, I hold no bitterness toward any individual or group of individuals in the Deep South.”