Students studying outside the library

Wofford to present Perry, Stokes with honorary degrees

Allen Stokes Matthew PerryApril 27, 2007

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College will confer honorary degrees on U.S. District Court Judge Matthew James Perry Jr. and alumnus Dr. Allen H. Stokes Jr., retired director of the Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina during the 2007 Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 20.

The ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. on the lawn of Main Building.  Wofford will confer degrees on some 270 undergraduates during Commencement, and the Class of 1957 will be featured participants in the ceremonies and events surrounding it.

Also at Commencement, the college will present the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan and Mary Mildred Sullivan Awards to two students and two non-students.  The Roger Milliken Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Science and the Philip Covington Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences also will be presented to faculty members.

Perry is one of the most esteemed and significant citizens of South Carolina of the past 100 years.  He has served as one of the nation’s most distinguished civil rights attorneys, as a member of the U. S. Court of Military Appeals, and as a Federal District Judge for the District of South Carolina.

A native of Columbia, S.C., Judge Perry attended Booker T. Washington High School there.  In 1939, he began working part-time jobs to pay for tuition at South Carolina State College, where his education was interrupted by service in the U. S. Army during World War II.  He completed a degree there in 1948, and earned a law degree at S.C. State, then a segregated and unaccredited law school, in 1951.  During the early years of his law practice, Perry worked in Spartanburg.

In the decades of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Perry was arguably the leading civil rights attorney in the state.  He accepted cases from some of the state’s neediest people, those deprived of both economic opportunities and political right.  By his own testimony, his most satisfying case was assisting Harvey Gantt of Charleston, who sought to become the minority to enroll at Clemson University in January 1963.  This historic case led to the racial integration of the University of South Carolina the following September, and was a catalyst for integration at institutions throughout the region, including Wofford.

As a practicing attorney, Perry was the principal in the case that created single-member voting districts in South Carolina.  This 1972 case helped to enable African-Americans to be elected to the legislature in the state for the first time since Reconstruction.  His landmark was revolutionary in almost every case that integrated South Carolina’s public schools, hospitals, golf courses, restaurants, parks, playgrounds and beaches.  He individually tried 6,000 cases, and his work led to the release of approximately 7,000 people arrested for sit-ins demanding equal rights for the state’s citizens.

In 1975, Perry became the first African-American attorney from the Deep South to be appointed to the federal bench when Sen. Strom Thurmond recommended him to President Gerald Ford for a seat on the U. S. Military Court of Appeals.  Four years later, Sen. Ernest Hollings recommended him to President Jimmy Carter for a seat on the U. S. District Court, a position he still holds in Senior Status today.

Stokes is one of the most unsung of distinguished graduates of Wofford College.  A native of Spartanburg and a graduate of the public schools here, Stokes entered Wofford in 1960, completing the bachelor of arts degree in 1964 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  Military service in Vietnam with the U.S. Army interrupted his post-graduate education, though after completing the master’s degree in history at the University of South Carolina in 1967, Stokes eventually completed his Ph.D. in 1977.  His entire career has been spent at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, the research library of the university.

The University of South Carolina appointed Stokes as manuscripts librarian at the South Caroliniana Library in 1972, and then director in 1983.  In 1992, he was appointed as university librarian for special collections, charged with all special collections of the various libraries within the university system.  He served as director of the Caroliniana Library until retiring in 2004, though he has returned to full time work there even in retirement.

While director of the Caroliniana Library, Stokes oversaw the computerization of its collections; the move of the University Archives to the library in 1991; the creation of its Modern Political Collections; the obtaining of numerous grants from outside sources to process and preserve collections; the growth of the Caroliniana Society, the patron organization of the library; extensive physical renovations; and the addition of new facilities.  Stokes also garnered funding for the microfilming of 25 South Carolina newspapers, which would have been lost to history otherwise, as well as funding for three scholarships for scholars doing research at the Caroliniana, one of which is named for Lewis P. Jones, longtime history professor at Wofford.  Within the past 20 years, virtually no major work on the history of the South, and especially the history of South Carolina, has been accomplished without major praise for Stokes in contributing significantly to the making of each of these books.  He is recognized nationally as one of the best archivists and directors of research collections in the country.

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