Figg’s involvement with the S.C. Ports Authority continued for nearly thirty years. He served as its legal counsel and an adviser to its management.
Lawyer, public servant, legal educator. Figg was one of the most influential South Carolina attorneys of his generation, supporting the development of the state’s ports and law school while opposing school desegregation. He was born in Radford, Virginia, on August 29, 1901, to Robert Figg, Sr., and Helen Josephine Cecil. The family moved to Charleston in 1915 so that the elder Figg could assume a position at the Charleston Navy Yard. The younger Figg graduated from Porter Military Academy in 1916 and from the College of Charleston in 1920. After attending law school at Columbia University for two years, Figg returned to Charleston before graduating and was admitted to the bar in 1922. He joined the law firm of Rutledge, Hyde, and Mann, and within two years he had become a partner.
With the backing of Mayor Burnet R. Maybank’s political organization, Figg won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1932. Two years later he was elected solicitor of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. Figg served as solicitor for twelve years and earned a reputation for honesty and efficiency. During that era solicitors drafted legislation for the General Assembly, and one of Figg’s most important achievements was drafting the act that created the South Carolina State Ports Authority.
Figg’s involvement with the S.C. Ports Authority continued for nearly thirty years. He served as its legal counsel and an adviser to its management. He negotiated the transfer of city, navy, and private property to the Ports Authority, bringing unified control to much of the port. He solicited business for the port from the federal government and from private industry and helped mediate between the often fractious personalities on the Ports Authority’s board.
A strong supporter of Strom Thurmond, Figg advised the South Carolina governor in his 1948 presidential bid as well as in his 1950 and 1954 races for the U.S. Senate. He served on the Dixiecrat campaign steering committee and wrote some of Thurmond’s speeches. Figg also was involved in the legal defense of the white primary and in the state’s defense in the Briggs v. Elliott school desegregation case. With the support of Governor James F. Byrnes, Figg framed much of the state’s strategy, though other attorneys presented most of the arguments. His opposition to school desegregation most likely cost him an appointment to the federal bench.
From 1959 until 1970 Figg served as dean of the University of South Carolina (USC) Law School, where he helped modernize the school’s facilities. Retiring from USC in 1970, he served as president of the South Carolina Bar Association.
Figg married Sallie Alexander Tobias of Charleston in 1927, and they had three children. Sallie Figg died in 1986, and after a period of declining health Robert Figg died in Columbia on January 31, 1991.
Koehler-Shepley, Thomas. “Robert McC. Figg, Jr.: South Carolina’s Lawyers’ Lawyer.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1994.