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Interview with Laughlin McDonald, February 6, 2012

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:23 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: I'm Bob Short, and this is Reflections on Georgia Politics, sponsored by Young Harris College and the Richard Russell Library at the University of Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Interviewer Bob Short introduces interviewee Laughlin McDonald

00:00:51 - Early life and family

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Partial Transcript: Winnsboro, South Carolina...

Segment Synopsis: McDonald recalls growing up in a small South Carolina town that was segregated along both racial and socioeconomic lines, and discusses his parents, who were civically engaged and segregationist.

Keywords: Board of Education; Charles Cornwallis; Class conflict; Columbia College; Columbia, South Carolina; Community concerts; Democratic party; Glee club; Ireland; Majority black population; Racial segregation; Revolutionary War; Scotland; State Correctional Board; Strom Thurmond; Textile industry; Welfare Board; Winnsboro Cotton Mill; Working class

00:06:51 - Undergraduate education at Columbia University

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Partial Transcript: Then you went to Columbia University.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald discusses his desire to leave his provincial town to enroll in a progressive institution, ultimately choosing Columbia, where he was disappointed at the lack of diversity among the student body.

Keywords: African-American; Art Rosenbaum; Carson McCullers; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbia Kingsmen; Culture shock; Davidson College; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Integration; New York City; New York metropolitan area; New York, New York; Princeton University; Provincialism; Rural; Southern Railroad; Southern writers; University of South Carolina; Urban; William Faulkner

00:12:27 - Being drafted into the military

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Partial Transcript: When did you decide you wanted to become a lawyer?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald speaks about his experience in the U.S. Army prior to entering law school, and recalls several incidents of racial discrimination in the military.

Keywords: Artillery school; Baseball; Basic training; Berlin, Germany; Company commander; Desegregation; Draft notice; E1; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Lewis, Washington; Infantry school; Military service; Officer Candidate School; Private first class; Second lieutenant; Staff sargeant; U.S. Army

00:16:31 - Entering law school

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Partial Transcript: University of Virginia...

Segment Synopsis: McDonald tells of his initial enrollment at the University of South Carolina's law school, where there were no black students and one female student, and his subsequent transfer to the University of Virginia.

Keywords: Charlottesville, Virginia; Fraternities; Gender discrimination; James River; USC; UVA; Yale University

00:18:43 - Working as a musician

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Partial Transcript: What happened after that?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald describes some of the musical positions he held during and just after his law school enrollment, which ultimately led to his first position as legal counsel on Hilton Head Island, where he previously sang in a hotel bar.

Keywords: Augusta, Georgia; Boys choir; Gilbert & Sullivan Society; Golf courses; Greenwich Village; Guitar; Hilton Head Island; Octet; Quartet; Right-wing; Sea Pines; Sextet; St. Thomas Episcopal Church; Staff attorney; Tennis; William Hilton Inn

00:23:51 - Rallying for a position with the ACLU

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Partial Transcript: And, as it turned out--I'm a tennis player too--and, uh, there was a woman who worked at the Sea Pines office who had a cousin who was a Quaker who was then director of the Penn Center...

Segment Synopsis: McDonald describes his initial introduction to the director of the Southern regional office of the ACLU and his ultimately successful attempts to be hired there.

Keywords: 16th Street Baptist Church bombing; American Civil Liberties Union; Birmingham, Alabama; Charles Morgan; Civil Rights Act of 1964; Freed slaves; Frogmore, South Carolina; KKK; Keynote speech; Ku Klux Klan; Operation Southern Justice; Penn Center; Penn School; Quaker; Sea Island, South Carolina

00:28:36 - History of the ACLU and its primary activities

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Partial Transcript: Some of us (clears throat)--excuse me--some of us, some of us are familiar with the ACLU and others may not be.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald describes some of the key legal issues taken on by the ACLU, including voting rights and work to desegregate schools, prisons, and juries.

Keywords: 13th Amendment; 14th Amendment; Anti-war; Brown v. Board of Education; Constitution; Death penalty; Death row; Due process; Equal protection; Federal court; First amendment; Frank Minis Johnson Jr.; Juries; Prison; Race riots; State statute; U.S. Supreme Court; Voting Rights Act

00:35:18 - Voting rights issues

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Partial Transcript: When did you first get interested in voting rights?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald describes how he came to specialize in issues of voting rights at the ACLU.

Keywords: Gerrymandering; Grey v. Sanders; Nichols v. Hopkins; One person, one vote; Reconstruction; Redistricting; Reynolds v. Sims; Supreme Court brief; White South

00:37:29 - The Civil Rights Movement / Confrontations in the South

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Partial Transcript: Were you involved in the Civil Rights Movement?

Segment Synopsis: Despite a deep conviction in equal rights for all, McDonald reveals that he was not active in the Civil Rights Movement as a soldier or law student; he further contrasts his experiences working in progressive Atlanta versus other areas in the South.

Keywords: Assault; Atlanta, Georgia; Civil Rights march; Legal memorandum; Martin Luther King Jr.; Progressive politics; Protest; Racial bias; Sit-in; Southern Regional Council; Vernon Jordon

00:42:50 - Politics at the ACLU

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Partial Transcript: You, you've tried cases all over the South.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald discusses trying cases in primarily federal courts under judges often appointed by right-wing politicians and how he navigates personal politics as an employee of the non-partisan ACLU.

Keywords: "The bench"; Conservative; Diplomacy; Federal court; Federal judiciary; Partisan; Political appointees; State court; State senate

00:45:50 - Southern politics and civil rights

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Partial Transcript: Seems like that over the years that civil rights all over the South has been more of a political than a social question.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald speaks about the legacy of the segregationist Southern Democrats and and touches on the white flight that accompanied the Civil Rights Movement.

Keywords: Black ghettos; Dixiecrats; George Wallace; Majority black district; Political consequence; Re-segregation; Republicans; Southern strategy

00:47:59 - Current issues with voter registration / Voting Rights Act

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Partial Transcript: What is your opinion of today's voting methods?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald stresses his belief in making voting as easily accessible as possible and opines that online voting may be possible if privacy concerns could be addressed. McDonald explains Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits drawing election districts in ways that improperly dilute minorities’ voting power. McDonald details Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states, including Georgia, to get federal approval before changing voting or election laws to ensure they do not have a harmful impact on minority voters.

Keywords: Absentee ballots; Early voting; Electronic voter registration; Internet privacy; No-fault absentee ballot; Online voting; Privacy issues; Same-day voter registrations; Technology

01:01:56 - Impact of the Voting Rights Act in the South

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you this question: Are you pleased with the effect that the Voting Rights Act has had in the South?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald opines that while the Voters Right Act has not solved the political oppression of minority groups, its impact has been significant and positive.

Keywords: Census map; Council commission; County government; House of Representatives; Local government; Malapportionment; Racial attitudes; Racial language; Racial polarization; Reapportionment; misapportionment

01:06:16 - Controversy over voter identification requirements

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Partial Transcript: Big fight going on now in Georgia between the Democratic party and the Republican party over the use of voter identification.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald speaks about the legality of voter identification requirements, which he believes unfairly targets minorities, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor, and states that fears of voter fraud are unfounded.

Keywords: Attorney General; Austin, Texas; Barack Obama; Cathy Cox; Crawford v. Marion County Election Board; Equal protection; Eric Holder; George W. Bush; Georgia Secretary of State; ID card; Indiana; Injunction; MLK Center; Nikki Haley; Obama administration; Perjury; Photo identification; Poll tax; Sonny Purdue; Veto; Voter Fraud; Voter suppression

01:13:44 - Authoring book on the history of voting rights issues in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about your book.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald discusses writing and publishing his book, A VOTING RIGHTS ODYSSEY: BLACK ENFRANCHISEMENT IN GEORGIA.

Keywords: Archives; Cambridge University Press; Dissertation; Elected officials; Indian country; Legal tome; Litigation; Non-fiction; Readability; Thesis

01:17:19 - Motivation in civil rights work

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Partial Transcript: You have boundless energy; where does it come from?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald speaks about the satisfaction he derives from his work and tells an anecdote about being part of a lawsuit filed against the South Carolina Board of Corrections, of which his father was a member.

Keywords: Board of Corrections; Conflict of interest; Consent decree; Declaratory judgment; Execution; Prison; Prisoners; Settlement

01:22:12 - Other writing activities

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Partial Transcript: So you love your job.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald discusses some of his other writing work, including a book on voting issues concerning American Indians.

Keywords: American Indians; Coverage formula; Indian rights; Leo Tolstoy; Literature; Paperback; Public debate; Reading; University of Oklahoma Press; War and Peace

01:25:13 - Creative aspirations / Strides made in civil rights

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Partial Transcript: If you weren't where you are today, where would you like to be?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald speaks about his desire to record songs and his creative writing accomplishments and aspirations; he also discusses the work yet to be done in civil rights and voting issues.

Keywords: 12 apostles; Audio recording; Bavarian; Bull Connor; Fiction; French; George Washington; Germans; Gulags; Middle East; Mohammed; Music; Novels; Poems; Poetry; Polish; Rosa Parks; Short stories; Thomas Jefferson

01:29:12 - Personal and professional influences

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Partial Transcript: If I ask you what people have had the most impact on your life, what would you say?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald names some of the individuals who have influenced his life's course, from his segregationist parents to his ACLU mentor.

Keywords: Black entrance; Dylan Thomas; Footnotes; Live from the Met; Maid; Metropolitan Opera; Public affairs; T.S. Eliot; Thomas Ketchum McDonald

01:35:18 - Notable cases with the ACLU

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Partial Transcript: What do you consider your greatest achievement with ACLU?

Segment Synopsis: Though McDonald indicates that it's difficult to pick out particularly notable work in his time at the ACLU, he recalls a gender discrimination case on which he worked early in his career.

Keywords: Bill McDonald; Equal protection clause; Eslinger v. Thomas; Fourth circuit; Gender discrimination; Law clerk; Receptionist; Senate page; Victoria Lamonte Eslinger

01:38:06 - Disappointing court decisions

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Partial Transcript: Biggest disappointment.

Segment Synopsis: McDonald reveals that not all cases the ACLU takes on are tried successfully, and discusses a particular disappointment stemming from a Georgia case involving a sole commissioner form of government.

Keywords: Bleckley County, Georgia; Christopher Coates; Holder v. Hall; Jackie Holder; Moot court; Remedial standard; State law

01:41:14 - Goals for the future

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Partial Transcript: Well except for singing ballads, what lies ahead of Laughlin McDonald?

Segment Synopsis: McDonald discusses some of his future creative plans, notably working on long-form poetry.

Keywords: Creative writing; Marriage; Mourning; Period piece; THE WASTELAND

01:42:24 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Well, we certainly appreciate you being with us.

Segment Synopsis: Short and McDonald conclude the interview.