Daniel Webster Perkins

Elizabeth City, NC I 1879 - 1972

Born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, he earned degrees from North Carolina State Normal College in 1897 and Temple University in 1899 before returning home to enter Shaw University Law School in 1902, where he was a member of its first graduating class.
After practicing law in Knoxville, Tennessee, Perkins moved to Tampa, Florida. There he passed the Florida Bar in 1914 and helped local activists Reverend Charles S. Sturgis and H. E. Lester to establish a branch of the NAACP in 1915. When National Field Secretary, James Weldon Johnson, arrived in Tampa in 1917, Perkins was the effective leader of NAACP activities. He served on a committee of lawyers to successfully argued before the Florida Supreme Court against legislation designed to prevent African American lawyers from practicing in the state. The Florida legislature had drawn up a document prohibiting their practice because they felt threatened by the success of the African American lawyers. In 1915, he also argued before the Florida Supreme Court against all white juries in the city of Tampa. The Haynes vs. State victory began the slow progress of integration of juries across the state. Join the Army in 1918 and served on the Council of Defense and engaged in the War Work Campaign. His application for the Officer Training School was denied despite the protest of James Weldon Johnson Perkins. In 1918, Perkins returned to Florida and moved to Jacksonville, Florida and opened his law practice in the historic Masonic Temple at 410 Broad Street. Appeared before the U. S. Supreme Court with a group lawyers from other Southern states, to argue for the right of African American men to use the name Shriners and to wear the paraphernalia. The Court finally ruled in their favor in 1928. Order of the Eastern Star D. W. Perkins #29, a Masonic-related fraternity of women and men dedicated to charity, truth and loving kindness is named in honor Perkins. Based in Jacksonville, however, practiced many years in Broward and other counties around Florida, thus making him known as the “traveling lawyer”. Appeared before the Florida Supreme Court on many occasions on the behalf of the disenfranchised and hopeless. In 1933, Perkins was granted a stay of execution for a defendant charged with murder. Perkins argued that the defendant had confessed to the crime after being tortured and treated brutally for seven consecutive nights. He also successfully won a stay of execution for four men who were implicated in criminal acts only after being interrogated for 72 hours. Throughout his career, “The Colonel” as he would be affectionately called, continued to represent plaintiffs who didn’t have a voice, who sued for equal pay and who desired to exercise their right to vote.
In 2000, the state of Florida honored him with the Great Floridian Award. During his illustrious career, Perkins held positions of trust or authority in a host of professional, educational, civic and political organizations, including Masons, Knights of Pythias, Elks, Samaritans, Odd Fellows, Eastern Star, Heroines, Masonic Templars, Woodsmen, Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, Business Men’s League, Afro-American Council, Civic League, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, U.S. Military Officers Training School, Florida Normal College, Bethune-Cookman College, Shaw University, NAACP, Urban League, YMCA, Negro Business League, National Bar Association, Colored Lawyers Association and Shriners. He was also State Chairman of the WPA Advisory Educational Council and Secretary of the State NYA Advisory Council.
Mr. Perkins distinguished himself as a proponent of civil rights, a community leader and a member of the bar who was genuinely interested in the careers of his younger Black colleagues. Accordingly, in 1968, the former Colored Lawyers Association changed its name in honor of D. W. Perkins, who had been a founding member. The Daniel Webster Perkins Bar Association continues to keep alive the legacy of a man who strove to improve the lives of African Americans in Florida.