Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry's College Graduation, 1966

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Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry's College Graduation, 1966

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry's College Graduation, 1966

by:
jtracy
February 24, 2017

Well, I guess you have to talk about the early years. I was always on the academic track. I never took any vocational courses and I don't know why I didn't, but I guess I didn't. But when my mother worked she would take me to a babysitter and this babysitter happen to have about ten or twelve children. Instead of just watching us she would teach us sort of like a Head Start Program. And I learned to read and write in cursive. So by the time I started to the organized kindergarten they were learning ABC's sing a long and I knew my ABC's already. So by the time I went to the first grade I was put in the upper tier of the, you know, they have tiers, first, second, third, fourth, fifth and I was in the top one. And that was normally reserved for the parents of professionals who had, I guess, a head start, because education begins at home.

Listen as Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry describes his school experience in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Justice Perry at the Orlando Public Library on December 19, 2016.

LISTEN Part II (17:23)

Justice James E. C. Perry served as the first African-American judge appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. Justice Perry served as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court beginning in July 2003.

In March 2009, Justice James E. C. Perry became the fourth African-American to serve as Florida Supreme Court Justice. Justice Perry retired from the Florida Supreme Court on December 30, 2016.

(Text highlights from audio recording.)

Hattie Perry, Broad Street Teacher Extraordinaire

Mine didn't begin at home. It began at my babysitter and her name was Hattie Perry. She wasn't related. But they called her "Mutt" and I would walk to Broad Street, which was about two to three blocks from my house, every day and she would teach us. How would she maintain discipline? You know, I don't really remember, but she must have had discipline. We all had assignments. We were doing things. We were learning. They say, "an idle mind is the devil's workshop." So I don't know if she did this on purpose or it was a fortuitous thing. But she did it on purpose in terms of teaching us.But I don't know if she did it in order to have discipline or she did it because it was the right thing to do. But I don't remember any disruptions. Isn't that kind of amazing? Yes, it is. It's amazing. My whole life has been amazing.

Most Versatile, Best All Around Student

Yes, that was in high school. As I said, I was in the upper tier from the first grade on up through the 12th. I started playing football, varsity football in the 8th grade. I really shouldn't have started until the 9th grade. I was 6'2 at the time. And I played basketball, varsity basketball in the 8th grade mainly because of my size. I had a little skill. But, I was young and everybody was older. I sang in the chorus. I was in the student government. My senior year I was vice president of the student council. I played both sports and I was pretty good in academics. I probably should have been voted most athletic-but they couldn't-because I was the only one who played both sports and played them pretty good. I guess they thought that was enough superlatives for best all around, "most versatile" they called it. And, I was also the first male to take typing in my junior year. And then the next year females couldn't get in the class. There was a stigma. Typing was feminine. So, I sort of broke that barrier.

Founder and President of Phi Beta Lambda Student Business Honor Society

I read that you became President of the Phi Beta Lambda Student Business Honor Society. That was in college. I was the founding president of that. I was a pretty good student in accounting. The professor said, the first day, he said, "I'm looking for stars." And, you know, they said, "Look to the right, look to the left, two of you probably won't be here. Because you won't have the seriousness or purpose to learn the subject matter." I was motivated to learn the subject matter.

College

Was college hard? No, not really. I was prepared for college. In the fifth grade we were taught how to diagram compound, complex sentences with gerunds, infinitives, etcetera. So I knew the basic framework of the English language and I knew everything had a place and a purpose. And I knew how they interact together. Like we spent four weeks on the verb "to be". Of course, we conjugated verbs and etcetera. Of course, the verb "to be" was a special one because it had no rules you either knew it or you didn't. The teacher always told us, "No matter how intelligent you are, if you split the verbs people would not think you were intelligent." So that was inculcated into us early, about, you know, how society viewed us as black kids, and I learned later as people in general.

Segregated, Apartheid System

But it was a segregated, apartheid system. There was no interaction with whites at all except for the occasional insurance agent or the blanket man. We called him blanket man. The guy would come into the black neighborhood selling blankets and towels and irons and things of that nature. I guess, they were the traveling salesmen.

Teachers were the Best and the Brightest

So our teachers were the best and the brightest and they taught us. And that was one of the benefits of segregation because their children attended the same schools so they had a vested interest in the schools. They didn't live outside the community. They were there and they were intelligent and they understood what they were preparing us for. And we had the best of the best. Now the buildings and the books were different because we never had new books. The new books went to the white schools. We had books that were written in, hand me downs and etcetera, but we learned from those books.

Hattie Perry, Broad Street Teacher Extraordinaire

Mine didn't begin at home. It began at my babysitter and her name was Hattie Perry. She wasn't related. But they called her "Mutt" and I would walk to Broad Street, which was about two to three blocks from my house, every day and she would teach us. How would she maintain discipline? You know, I don't really remember, but she must have had discipline. We all had assignments. We were doing things. We were learning. They say, "an idle mind is the devil's workshop." So I don't know if she did this on purpose or it was a fortuitous thing. But she did it on purpose in terms of teaching us.But I don't know if she did it in order to have discipline or she did it because it was the right thing to do. But I don't remember any disruptions. Isn't that kind of amazing? Yes, it is. It's amazing. My whole life has been amazing.

Most Versatile, Best All Around Student

Yes, that was in high school. As I said, I was in the upper tier from the first grade on up through the 12th. I started playing football, varsity football in the 8th grade. I really shouldn't have started until the 9th grade. I was 6'2 at the time. And I played basketball, varsity basketball in the 8th grade mainly because of my size. I had a little skill. But, I was young and everybody was older. I sang in the chorus. I was in the student government. My senior year I was vice president of the student council. I played both sports and I was pretty good in academics. I probably should have been voted most athletic-but they couldn't-because I was the only one who played both sports and played them pretty good. I guess they thought that was enough superlatives for best all around, "most versatile" they called it. And, I was also the first male to take typing in my junior year. And then the next year females couldn't get in the class. There was a stigma. Typing was feminine. So, I sort of broke that barrier.

Founder and President of Phi Beta Lambda Student Business Honor Society

I read that you became President of the Phi Beta Lambda Student Business Honor Society. That was in college. I was the founding president of that. I was a pretty good student in accounting. The professor said, the first day, he said, "I'm looking for stars." And, you know, they said, "Look to the right, look to the left, two of you probably won't be here. Because you won't have the seriousness or purpose to learn the subject matter." I was motivated to learn the subject matter.

College

Was college hard? No, not really. I was prepared for college. In the fifth grade we were taught how to diagram compound, complex sentences with gerunds, infinitives, etcetera. So I knew the basic framework of the English language and I knew everything had a place and a purpose. And I knew how they interact together. Like we spent four weeks on the verb "to be". Of course, we conjugated verbs and etcetera. Of course, the verb "to be" was a special one because it had no rules you either knew it or you didn't. The teacher always told us, "No matter how intelligent you are, if you split the verbs people would not think you were intelligent." So that was inculcated into us early, about, you know, how society viewed us as black kids, and I learned later as people in general.

Segregated, Apartheid System

But it was a segregated, apartheid system. There was no interaction with whites at all except for the occasional insurance agent or the blanket man. We called him blanket man. The guy would come into the black neighborhood selling blankets and towels and irons and things of that nature. I guess, they were the traveling salesmen.

Teachers were the Best and the Brightest

So our teachers were the best and the brightest and they taught us. And that was one of the benefits of segregation because their children attended the same schools so they had a vested interest in the schools. They didn't live outside the community. They were there and they were intelligent and they understood what they were preparing us for. And we had the best of the best. Now the buildings and the books were different because we never had new books. The new books went to the white schools. We had books that were written in, hand me downs and etcetera, but we learned from those books.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry Archives.

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