June 2013

Mary E. Perry

NC NAACP President

The road that led Mary Perry to become the longest-serving NAACP president in North Carolina history began with a misstep. Perry was on a trip to the local theatre with a younger cousin when a white girl stepped on her cousin’s toe. Perry, a teenager at the time, felt it was her duty to protect her cousin.

“I said to the white girl, Ă«Aren’t you going to say excuse me”” Perry said.

The police chief told Perry she had to get out of town for speaking up.

“And from that day on, I said, I’m going to fight, because this is just awful the way blacks are treated,” Perry said.

Perry turned to Ruth Morgan, a member of Perry’s church and then president of the Wendell-Wake branch of the NAACP.

“She was my role model, with the things she was doing within the church and the NAACP,” Perry said of Morgan. “She’s an inspiration for most people.”

With Morgan’s guidance, 16-year-old Perry began registering black voters and raising NAACP memberships. Over the years, Perry became more involved with the group. Throughout her time with the NAACP, she personally registered more than 10,000 voters. She was eventually elected president, and became the longest-serving NAACP president in North Carolina history. But her hard work and outspoken nature did not come without consequences.

“I had a cross burned in my yard,” Perry said. “My daughter has been threatened.”

Despite personal sacrifices, Perry said it all comes down to helping people.

“That’s my motto – if I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain.”

As president, she implemented the Wendell-Wake NAACP Scholarship for local students involved in the NAACP Youth Council hoping to attend college. Retired as president since 2006, she remains active today as an advisor for the local youth council. Although she is proud of the strides made by African Americans over the years, Perry said the NAACP is still relevant.

“It’s needed now more than ever,” Perry said. “My hopes and dreams are that the younger generation will come on and pick up the torch and carry on.”

Perry is also the mother of four children: Rev. Vernon L. Perry Sr., Brenda P. Coffield, Dr. Lavonnie P. Claybon and Dwight C. Perry Sr. (deceased).