McDonald grew up outside Fort Necessity, La., one of 12 kids born to his sharecropping parents. By the time he was 7 years old, he would go out hunting by himself and bag squirrels and rabbits for supper. When he was 17, McDonald’s mother paid a stranger all the money stashed in the cookie jar to drive her boy to Chicago so he might find a better life.
What McDonald encountered was a load of other dead-end, low-paying jobs. So, he joined the Army, spent three years as an artillery officer, returned to Chicago and still couldn’t get steady work. Ultimately, he was hired as a janitor at the University of Chicago.
McDonald caused a stink on campus when he applied for a building engineer job, a position African Americans just didn’t get in the early ’60s. After being passed over several times, he was hired as an apprentice, and eventually became a journeyman, lead engineer and later union boss. McDonald retired after 32 years and has helped many African American coworkers get better jobs along the way.
Those life experiences, and his faith in God, prepared him for his place in history as the inner-city grandpa who fought for the right to pack a pistol in Chicago.
“I felt the Lord put me here for this,” he says. “It was divine design.”
Mark Konkol is a writer in Chicago.