Donald Stuart Russell was born in Lafayette Springs, Mississippi, in 1906. His father passed away when Russell was four, and, unable to keep the family farm viable, Lula Russell moved with her children to Chester, South Carolina, to be nearer her own parents. Russell attended the public schools of Chester and took jobs as a newspaper boy and at a drug store to help support his family. Graduating from high school early, Russell entered the University of South Carolina at the age of fifteen and put himself through school by pumping gas at a filling station.
Asked in a 1992 oral history if he had always wanted a career in public service, Russell recalled, “I was very ambitious. I don’t know that I knew exactly which way I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. That attracted me from early years. But…I don’t know that I thought of much beyond that. I didn’t grow up in a very metropolitan situation, so I don’t know that you had any high aspirations of things. You…did have the idea that you’d try to take advantage if you did get an opportunity. That’s about the best you could do.”
Virginia Utsey's senior photograph
from the 1927 Garnet and Black
After his admission to the bar, Russell began practicing in Union, South Carolina. A year later he married his college sweetheart, Virginia Utsey of St. George. In 1930, Russell joined the prestigious law practice of Nichols, Wyche and Byrnes of Spartanburg. He had impressed the firm by winning a case in which he was opposed by partner Charles Cecil Wyche. Russell was running the practice alone by 1937, following the death of George Nichols and the appointments of James F. Byrnes to the United States Supreme Court and Wyche to the Federal District Court.