(February 27, 1918 - March 21, 1997)
Iowa State student (MS, Agricultural Economics, 1942), president of Florida A & M University (FAMU.)
Benjamin Luther Perry Jr. was born on February 27, 1918 at Eatonville, Florida, son of Benjamin Luther Perry Sr. and Annie Lue Gordon Perry. When he was two years old, his family moved to Tallahassee where his father obtained a teaching position at Florida A & M University and also served as dean of the Division of Agriculture from 1928 to 1948. Benjamin's mother was a graduate of both Tuskegee and FAMU. Young Benjamin grew up on the campus, attended the elementary and high schools operated by the university, and graduated from the high school in 1936 as salutatorian. He then attended FAMU and graduated with a BS in Agriculture Education in 1940. While an undergraduate, his father purchased a 90 acre farm for Perry to operate. It had 1,000 chickens and some livestock. His venture in farming was not successful.
Following his graduation, Perry came to Iowa State College (now University) to study for a master's degree. He received an MS in Agricultural Economics from Iowa State in 1942. He lived at 1204 3rd St. in Ames while studying at Iowa State. Just ten days after graduation, he received a draft notice and spent the next four years mostly in the Army Corps of Engineers. He saw combat in a half dozen battles on Pacific Islands during the war. Before the war ended, he married Helen Naomi Harrison on August 12, 1944 at Union, North Carolina. They had one daughter, Karla Denise Perry, who died in infancy.
After the war, Perry worked as a high school teacher for veterans for several years and then returned to FAMU in 1950 as an instructor in economics. That same year he was also appointed as Dean of Men and was awarded the PhD in Land Economics from Cornell University. He became Dean of Students in 1954. Perry and his wife Helen adopted daughter Kimberly in 1961.
In 1962, Dr. Perry took a two-year leave of absence and served as Michigan State advisor at the University of Nigeria. When he returned in 1964, he resumed teaching economics as full professor. The following year Dr. Perry was appointed Director of Research and Grants followed by an appointment as Dean of Administration in 1967.
In 1968, Dr. Perry was chosen as FAMU's sixth president and its first alumnus to achieve this office. He took the helm at a very unsettled time at the university in wake of the emerging civil rights movement. There had been continual discussion throughout Florida through the 1960s of merging the all black university with other universities in the Florida State University System, especially with Florida State University. Believing that the university should keep its historic identity as an independent black educational institution, Dr. Perry was emphatically opposed to this, and almost by sheer strength of will and personality prevented the merger.
In order to sustain this victory, he led efforts to make considerable changes and improvements to FAMU to justify continuing its autonomy. During his nine year tenure, he helped promote dramatic growth of FAMU. In 1970, the School of Business was founded. The following year the School of Pharmacy became fully accredited and a Navy ROTC program began. Also in 1971, FAMU was recognized as a full partner in Florida's nine-university system. He reorganized FAMU in 1974 from its existing departments into larger academic schools and colleges. In 1975, the School of Architecture was opened. Other achievements included the founding of the Black Archives Research Center and Museum as a repository for Black History and Culture, the Division of Sponsored Research, the Program in Medical Sciences in conjunction with two other universities in the state system, cooperative programs in agriculture, and a degree granting program in Afro-American Studies.
Considerable construction and renovation of the campus also occurred during Dr. Perry's tenure costing more than $14 million. A Women's Complex, the Clifton Dyson Pharmacy Building, and new poultry and diary cattle resting sheds were built. The University Commons, the Coleman Library, and Tucker Hall were all renovated. The University Hospital, which was closed in 1971, was also renovated and reopened as the Foote-Hilyer Administration Center.
Dr. Perry was also involved in many professional activities. He was a member and president of the National Association of Personnel Workers and of the Southern Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities. He was also a member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, the Southern College Personnel Association, the Florida Education Association, the National Education Association, and the American Association of Higher Education. On the FAMU campus, he was chairman of the advisory committee for the Kappa Delta chapter. In addition, he wrote many articles on economics and on aspects of higher education for African-Americans, disadvantaged students, and issues involving FAMU.
Other activities included membership in Kappa Alpha Psi, the Masonic Lodge, the Mayor's Commission on Housing and Urban Renewal, and Frontiers International. He was the founder and president of the Tallahassee Urban League (1969-1970) and served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Carnegie Program at the University of Florida. In addition, he was associate commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America.
Dr. Perry retired from the presidency of FAMU in 1977 and immediately became director of the Agricultural Research Extension Center on the FAMU campus. When he fully retired in 1980, he became Emeritus President of FAMU.
Dr. Perry was honored in 1964 by the president of the Republic of Nigeria for outstanding services to the University of Nigeria. In 1970, he was awarded the Phi Delta Kappa Man of the Year Award by the Tallahassee Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Dr. Perry continued living in Tallahassee for many years. Tragically, he was hit by a car in front of his home on March 10, 1997 when he stepped off a curb in front of his house. He died eleven days later, on March 21, 1997 at the age of 79. He was interred in Greenwood Cemetery in Tallahassee.
Almost all sources on the life and career of Benjamin Luther Perry Jr. were found online. The most comprehensive information was found in Earl Harper, A Study of Black Colleges and University Presidents Located Primarily in the South, Southeast, and Southwest Part of the United States of America. Master's Thesis, Western Michigan University, 1976, pp. 41-42, 56-57, 60, 130; in Roosevelt Wilson (ed.), Rattlers. Tallahassee, FL. Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, FAMU, 1973, p. 9; and in remarks by Rep. Don Fuqua in The Congressional Record, September 25, 1968, pp. 28238-28239.
Other significant information is found in Leedell W. Neyland, Historically Black Land-Grant Institutions and the Development of Agriculture and Home Economics 1890-1990. Tallahassee, FL. Florida A& M University Foundation, Inc. 1990, pp. 163, 263, 266.
Other information was found on various websites of Florida A & M University, the Environmental Sciences Institute, and the Tallahassee Urban League.
Stories on Dr. Perry appeared in The Florida Star, October 25, 1968, p. 1 and in Tallahassee Magazine, July 20, 2012.
Obituaries appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, March 22, 1997 and the Orlando Sentinel, March 24, 1997.
Family information from Public Members Family Trees, the 1920 and 1930 U. S. Censuses, a marriage license, and a WW II draft card was found at ancestryinstitution.com.
Interment information was found at findagrave.com.