donaldrussell
Russell, Donald Stewart

Russell, Donald Stewart

February 22, 1906–February 22, 1998

He also entered several commercial ventures in the Carolinas, principally the short-term, high-interest-loan business, which soon made him a millionaire. Following Byrnes’s election as governor in 1950, Russell was named president of the University of South Carolina (USC) in late 1951.

University president, governor, U.S. senator, jurist. Russell was born in Lafayette Springs, Mississippi, on February 22, 1906, the son of Jesse Russell, a farmer, and his wife Lula Russell. At the age of four, the death of his father doomed the family farm, and Russell moved with his mother to Chester, South Carolina. At age fifteen Russell entered the University of South Carolina, where he graduated first in his class in 1925. He then entered the University of South Carolina’s law school, where he graduated at the head of his class in 1928. On June 15, 1929, Russell married Virginia Faire Utsey of St. George. They remained married for nearly seventy years and raised four children.

After a year of graduate study in law at the University of Michigan, Russell entered private practice in Union in 1929. In 1930 he moved to Spartanburg and joined the influential law firm of Nicholls, Wyche and Byrnes, where he began a close working relationship with James F. Byrnes. By late 1937 Sam J. Nicholls had died, C. C. Wyche was appointed to the Federal District Court, and James F. Byrnes was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, so Russell ran the practice alone. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Russell moved to Washington, D.C., where, as Byrnes’s protégé, he served in Franklin Roosevelt’s White House as assistant to the director of economic stabilization and later as assistant to the director of war mobilization. In 1944 he entered the U.S. Army with the rank of major and served on the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in France. In early 1945 he returned to the White House, where he served under Byrnes as deputy director of war mobilization and reconversion. After Byrnes became secretary of state in July 1945, Russell was named assistant secretary of state for administration. He traveled with Byrnes to the Potsdam conference and sat in on the discussions that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan.

After Byrnes resigned as secretary of state in January 1947, Russell joined him in a Washington, D.C., law office affiliated with the powerful firm of Hogan & Hartson. He also entered several commercial ventures in the Carolinas, principally the short-term, high-interest-loan business, which soon made him a millionaire. Following Byrnes’s election as governor in 1950, Russell was named president of the University of South Carolina (USC) in late 1951. During his five-year tenure Russell updated the curriculum, attracted nationally respected faculty, and modernized the campus. His administration is remembered as one of the most successful in university history.

Russell resigned as USC’s president in late 1957 to run for governor. A usually quiet, unassuming, and scholarly man, he entered a bitter political campaign and lost the 1958 Democratic Party primary to Ernest F. Hollings. Four years later Russell again ran for governor and was elected. His term was marked by several milestones in race relations. He celebrated his inauguration with an integrated picnic on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion. It was the first integrated public social event in South Carolina since Reconstruction. A few weeks later Clemson Agricultural College was desegregated, with Russell calling on the state to face the issue “peacefully, without violence, without disorder and with proper regard for the good name of our state and our people.” Nonetheless, Governor Russell continued the state’s legal efforts to prevent the desegregation of other schools and colleges in the state, and he called the landmark federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 “unfortunate.”

On April 18, 1965, U.S. Senator Olin D. Johnston died in office. Four days later, citing his own extensive Washington experience, Governor Russell resigned his office and the state’s new governor, Robert E. McNair, appointed him to fill Johnston’s seat in the Senate until the next statewide election. As senator, Russell opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He served in the Senate until 1966, when Ernest F. Hollings defeated him in a special election. The following year President Lyndon B. Johnson named Russell to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of South Carolina. Four years later, in 1971, Richard Nixon elevated Russell to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. While on that court, Russell wrote nearly 475 published opinions and earned a reputation as a thought- ful conservative. He served on the Fourth Circuit for more than twenty-five years and never took “senior status,” working full-time until his death in Spartanburg on his ninety-second birthday, February 22, 1998.

Moylan, John C., III. “Donald Stuart Russell–In Memoriam.” South Carolina Law Review 49 (spring 1998): 353–57.

Obituary. New York Times, February 25, 1998, p. B8.

Widener, H. Emory, Jr. “Honorable Donald Stewart Russell (1971–1998).” Washington and Lee Law Review 55 (spring 1998): 474–76.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Russell, Donald Stewart
  • Coverage February 22, 1906–February 22, 1998
  • Author
  • Keywords University president, governor, U.S. senator, jurist, sat in on the discussions that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, president of the University of South Carolina (USC) in late 1951. During his five-year tenure Russell updated the curriculum, attracted nationally respected faculty, and modernized the campus, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 18, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 23, 2022
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