Fairfield County residents turned out to honor one of their own March 3 at the Celebration of Equal Rights honoring Winnsboro native Laughlin McDonald. McDonald was recognized for his 40 years of leadership at the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. McDonald led legal challenges that resulted in equal rights for people of color in Fairfield County and across South Carolina. The event was hosted by the Church of the Nazarene and attended by 120 people from across the state.
McDonald was born in Winnsboro in 1938 and graduated from the historic Mt. Zion Institute in Winnsboro in 1956. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army, earn an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School. He is currently director of the Southern Regional American Civil Liberties Union in Atlanta. He also has been director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project since 1972. During his 40 years of fighting for equality, McDonald’s local accomplishments include winning a lawsuit that ended segregation in S.C. prisons in 1977, winning a suit to add single-member voting districts in the City of Columbia in 1985 and winning a single-member district plan for Winnsboro Town Council in 1988. Ten years later, he filed a suit that required Fairfield County to adopt single-member districts. In 2010, he won a Department of Justice ruling against appointing members of the Fairfield County School Board. Since its inception in 1965, the Southern Regional Office of the ACLU has provided representation to minority plaintiffs, primarily in the South, in civil rights litigation, including school desegregation, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, jury discrimination and voting rights. During the past two decades, the Southern Regional Office, through its Voting Rights Project directed by McDonald, has focused on voting rights and has expanded its representation to include Native Americans in various Western states and Alaskan Natives.
McDonald and his wife Patricia have two children and currently reside in Atlanta.