PERRY, ERVIN SEWELL
PERRY, ERVIN SEWELL (1935–1970). Ervin S. Perry, the first black faculty member at the University of Texas, son of Willie and Edna Perry, was born on a farm in Coldspring, Texas, on December 22, 1935. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Coldspring in May 1952 and from Prairie View A&M College in 1956 with a B.S. degree in civil engineering. Subsequently he and his twin brother, Mervin, served together as officers in the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, until July 1958. After leaving the army Perry served during 1958–59 as an instructor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He entered graduate school at the University of Texas in the summer of 1959, then accepted a position as assistant professor of civil engineering at Prairie View A&M for the following year. In May 1960 he married Jean Alfred of Baytown, a registered nurse and faculty member at Prairie View A&M. They had three daughters. The couple moved to Austin, where Perry reentered graduate school in the summer of 1960. As a graduate student he worked as a research engineer and coauthored several publications on energy absorption of lightweight aggregate concrete and foamed plastics. He received his M.S. degree in civil engineering in 1961 and his Ph.D. in 1964. His specialities were in materials science and structural mechanics.
On September 1, 1964, Perry became assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas. He was thus the first African American to be appointed to professional status in any major university in the South. His technical contributions are reflected by his writings in the American Concrete Institute Journal and other academic publications. He was elected to Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi, and Phi Kappa Phi and was listed in American Men of Science. Prairie View honored him in 1966 with its Distinguished Graduate Award. Perry was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Society for Testing and Materials, and the American Concrete Institute. In 1967–68 he was a fellow in the Ford Foundation Academic Administration Internship Program and served as assistant to the president of Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia. After returning to the University of Texas, he served as acting chairman of the civil engineering department during the summer of 1969. He was promoted to associate professor that same year.
Perry was a Baptist who served his church as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. He was active in the Kiwanis Club, the United Fund of Austin, the Capitol Kidney Foundation, and the Travis Association for the Blind. He served as a member of the Advisory Council for Technical Services of the Coordinating Board, Texas College and University System. He became the first black member of the Travis Chapter, Texas Society of Professional Engineers, in 1964 and by 1966 was elected a chapter director. In 1970 he was named Young Engineer of the Year by both the Travis County and Texas chapters of the National Society of Professional Engineers. He was granted the society's national award posthumously. The Travis chapter renamed its award the Ervin S. Perry Award in his memory. Perry died of cancer at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center on December 14, 1970, and was buried in Coldspring.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Margaret C. Berry, "PERRY, ERVIN SEWELL," accessed January 20, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpe69.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.