James E. C. Perry at Officer Candidate School, 1967

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James E. C. Perry at Officer Candidate School, 1967

James E. C. Perry at Officer Candidate School, 1967

March 15, 2017

I was drafted right after college. Well, actually I started receiving notices in my sophomore, junior, and senior year. I received deferments while I was in college. So right after I graduated I received a notice that I was being drafted so I had to make a decision. Here I was a poor boy from the projects and I wanted to make some money and in Vietnam they were killing people. I mean it was real. I mean I understood the sense of what the world was about. Not what it was about, but the consequences of the people who partook in it. And I decided that since I wasn't going to Canada and I wasn't going to be a draft dodger that I would attend Officer Candidate School.

So, I volunteered for the draft in order to go to Officer Candidate School. So if I were going to be part of the military action I would go in there at a higher level than someone who was, we called them grunts, who you just tell them to go and do. I wanted to be the one to tell people to go and do. So as a consequence, I had to sign up for two years after basic training, advanced infantry training, and officer candidate school, that's a total of nine months. And, as usual, I was the only one in my company - black.

My first experience with white people was in the military. I was stationed at Fort Dixon, New Jersey for basic training and AIT. AIT is Advanced Infantry Training. And most of the white guys were from the south. It was their first experience also. The military is really made up of southern whites. I mean that's the way they get out of their ghetto so to speak. Because there are white ghettos and there are black ghettos, I mean, and the sooner we understand that the better off we're going to be. I mean, there are poor whites that are worse off than the worst black. I mean, when you look at television, of course, all you see is blacks are criminals and the whites are fine, but that's not true.

And so, you get to know these guys and you get to see they have the same issues and problems and values that we do. And I could see that. And there were some ignorant whites and some ignorant blacks. And because you have this image of apartheid system and white is right, it's always superior. But when you face it head on you see that that's not true. And that's part of the big lie. That's part of what they don't want you to see. During that time, is, you know, there's really no difference.

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

LISTEN Part III (16:38)

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.

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