James E. C. Perry, Vice President of SEEDCO, 1975

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James E. C. Perry, Vice President of SEEDCO, 1975

James E. C. Perry, Vice President of SEEDCO, 1975

March 1, 2017

Listen as Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry describes coming to Central Florida to work with SEEDCO in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Justice Perry at the Orlando Public Library on December 19, 2016.

LISTEN Part IV (19:16)

What was the area like when you came here working for SEEDCO, the Seminole Economic Development Commission?

It was like Vietnam in certain areas. I mean, it was really very tragic situations: poor, backwards, street flooding when it rained. People living in shacks, lean-to's. It was worse than any slum I've seen in New York and I've seen some slums. People that were basically migrant workers. But they were, this was their home base. They worked in the orange groves and celery, etcetera, during the season. Then they would go up to Rochester and work in the apple orchards in the winter and, it was horrendous. I mean, that's the reason the program was there in the first place was to come up with jobs and employment situations; was to hire these people so they wouldn't be migratory. And that was the whole goal and it didn't work. But, that's what we were trying to do.

Law Office in Sanford

I opened a law office in Sanford, that's where my base was, and I did legal work for Seminole Economic Development Commission. And, you know, clients, I was the only black lawyer in the county at that time, Seminole County. And I received offers, but I wanted to see if I could do it on my own. And after a year, I formed a partnership with Noris Woolfork and we had law offices in Orlando on Parramore Street and in Sanford.

Dr. Stark

Matter of fact, the offices in Sanford was Dr. Stark's office. Dr. Stark was the black doctor who, coincidentally when Harry T. and Harriett V. Moore were killed they put a bomb under their bedroom on Christmas Day in 1951 in Mims, Florida; the Klan did by the way. [Dr. Stark] He was the field secretary for the NAACP. He was considered the most dangerous man in Florida by the establishment. And all he wanted to do was: he wanted voter registration, parenting pay for teachers, he was against lynching, and he was probably the most prominent black man in the state at the time. He registered over a 100,000 people to vote. That made him dangerous. Voter suppression, I mean. You still hear these same tactics are being used today. And they wouldn't take them [Harry T. and Harriet V. Moore] to the hospital in Brevard County. So they drove State Road 46A to Sanford and, of course, they wouldn't take them in that hospital either. Dr. Stark had a big enough office and that's where they brought them and they died there. We're talking about '51.

Your law firm served as general counsel for the Florida Chapter of the NAACP. Were there particular cases or experiences that stand out in your mind that people in this area should know about?

Well, a lot of cases. We were part of initial redistricting in 1990, 1991. When we didn't have any black representatives in Congress. We were a part of that initial lawsuit. The initial lawsuit, we got three black Congress people from Florida: Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings, Carrie Meek down in south Florida. [So you accomplished something.]

Well, there were a lot of accomplishments. We were involved in getting rid of the fleeing felon law where police would shoot people if they were running from them. We were a part of that. A lot of discrimination in employment, etcetera, etcetera. I mean, it was worthwhile work. You know, now that I think about it, I hadn't really thought about it because, you know, when you're in the struggle you just take one step at a time. You don't really think about the impact you're having until you look back and we have conversations like this. I hadn't really thought about it....

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



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