Harrison County

He thought he was black until, 'I find out I don't have a lick of African American in me'

Olivia Perry and son Martin, who was about 4 years old in this photo. Perry's parents never told him that he was adopted. The 51-year-old is on a quest to find his birth mother and her family, who he believes live in the Gulfport-Biloxi area.
Olivia Perry and son Martin, who was about 4 years old in this photo. Perry's parents never told him that he was adopted. The 51-year-old is on a quest to find his birth mother and her family, who he believes live in the Gulfport-Biloxi area. Courtesy of Martin Perry

Up until a week ago, Martin Perry Sr. thought he was a full-blooded African American.

Then he received the first outline of his origins from Catholic Charities in Jackson, Mississippi, which handled his adoption 51 years ago. Turns out he was born to a French-Spanish-Irish mother and a Puerto Rican father.

Perry received the information by email on Monday, June 4.

"I woke up Monday morning thinking I was African American and come Monday afternoon, I find out I don't have a lick of African American in me," Perry said. "That's the crazy part.

"And then I had to call all the kids and say, 'Hey, dad's not African American.' ”

Perry, an insurance salesman in Evansville, Indiana, is on a quest to find his biological mother. But he said the state of Mississippi does not make it easy.

He always thought he was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, where his African American parents raised him without telling him that he was adopted. Instead, a niece inadvertently mentioned his adoption after his parents had died, when he was 42 years old.

He has tried off and on for the past nine years to locate his birth parents.

“That's the state of Mississippi," he said. "They lock those records down.

“The state of Mississippi is one of the few states left that will not let you open an adoption record without a court order."

Perry says he had a happy childhood and never wanted for anything. He was raised with two siblings by a father who was a social worker and a mother who taught school.



He felt like he did not quite fit in, but it's hard to explain why. It was more the little things. He was hairy, while the rest of his family was not. He was light-skinned for an African American, he said, but so was his adoptive mom.

He even got picked on from time to time and called "whitey." He had thick, curly black hair, which he now attributes to his Puerto Rican heritage. He wants to know more about his heritage and his biological parents not only for himself but also for his four children and three grandchildren.

Perry believes the power of the internet can help him unlock his heritage. He doesn't want to spend the time and money that going to court would entail.

Here are key clues the Catholic Charities' letter offered:

His mom was 23 years old when she gave birth to Perry on Oct. 19, 1966, at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport. She was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with light brown hair, hazel eyes and olive skin. She weighed around 170 pounds.

His mom, who had an eighth-grade education, worked in hotels and laundries.

She married in February 1957, giving birth to two boys and a girl before she and her husband divorced in November 1962.

Her ex-husband died in 1966 while working on a construction job.

Her father worked as a country club maintenance man, while her mother was a housewife, raising her and a sister. Perry believes his mother and her family lived in the Gulfport-Biloxi area.

His father was born in Puerto Rico and had known his mother for 11 months. He was 29 years old and Catholic, stood 5 feet 6 inches tall, and had black hair, dark olive skin, black eyes and a large build. He worked as a merchant mariner on a grain ship in the engine room.

The couple enjoyed dancing. Notes indicate he was unaware that his girlfriend was pregnant.

Before his adoption, Perry was briefly placed in foster care and given the name Paul Martin.

If you have any information about Perry's birth parents or family, please email him at martin.perry812@gmail.com.

Perry said he has some health questions for his family.

"But most importantly," he said, "it would provide me, and my children and grandchildren, a new beginning. I don't care why I was adopted. I'm not looking for that answer. She did what she thought was best for me. I just want to get to know my birth family."

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