Richard Russell: American politician (1897 - 1971) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Richard Russell
American politician

Richard Russell

Richard Russell
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American politician
Known for Georgia Senator (1933-1971)
A.K.A. Richard B. Russell, Jr., Richard Russell, Jr., Sen. Richard Russell, R...
Was Politician Lawyer
From United States of America
Field Law Politics
Gender male
Birth 2 November 1897, Winder, USA
Death 21 January 1971, Washington, D.C., USA (aged 73 years)
Star sign Scorpio
Politics Democratic Party
The details (from wikipedia)


Richard Brevard Russell Jr. (November 2, 1897 – January 21, 1971) was an American politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the 66th Governor of Georgia from 1931 to 1933 before serving in the United States Senate for almost 40 years, from 1933 to 1971. Russell was a founder and leader of the conservative coalition that dominated Congress from 1937 to 1963, and at his death was the most senior member of the Senate. He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.

Born in Winder, Georgia, Russell established a legal practice in Winder after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1921 to 1931 before becoming Governor of Georgia. Russell won a special election to succeed Senator William J. Harris and joined the Senate in 1933. He supported the New Deal early in his Senate career but helped establish the conservative coalition of Southern Democrats. He was the chief sponsor of the National School Lunch Act, which provided free or low-cost school lunches to impoverished students.

During his long tenure in the Senate, Russell served as chairman of several committees, and was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services for most of the period between 1951 and 1969. He was a candidate for President of the United States at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and the 1952 Democratic National Convention. He was also a member of the Warren Commission.

Russell supported racial segregation and co-authored the Southern Manifesto with Strom Thurmond. Russell and 17 fellow Democratic and one Republican Senators blocked the passage of civil rights legislation via the filibuster. After Russell's protege, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, Russell led a Southern boycott of the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Russell served in the Senate until his death from emphysema in 1971.

Early life

Russell was born in Winder, Georgia, the fourth child (and first son) of 15 children of Ina (née Dillard) and Richard Brevard Russell, a prominent lawyer and later chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. The younger Russell graduated in 1914 from the Seventh District Agricultural and Mechanical School in Powder Springs, Georgia, and from Gordon Institute in Barnesville, Georgia, the following year. Russell then enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law in 1915 and earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1918. While at UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society.

Russell served briefly in the United States Navy near the end of World War I, and was discharged after the Armistice. In 1919, he set up a law practice with his father in Winder.

Governor of Georgia, 1931–1933

Russell was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives (1921–31), serving as its speaker (1927–31). His meteoric rise was capped by election, at age 33, as Governor of Georgia, serving from 1931 to 1933. He was sworn in by his father, who had become a Georgia Supreme Court justice nine years before. He was a progressive governor who reorganized the bureaucracy, promoted economic development in the midst of the Great Depression, and balanced the budget. Russell became embroiled in controversy, after Robert Elliott Burns, serving time on a Georgia chain gang, escaped to New Jersey and his book entitled I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! was published. It condemned the Georgia prison system as inhumane, and soon became the basis for a successful motion picture, but Russell demanded extradition. New Jersey refused, and Russell was attacked from all quarters.

Senate career, 1933–1971

Following the death of U.S. Senator William J. Harris in 1932, Governor Russell defeated Congressman Charles R. Crisp to serve the remainder of Harris's term; he was elected on his own to serve a full term in 1936 and was subsequently re-elected in 1942, 1948, 1954, 1960, and 1966. During his long tenure in the Senate, Russell served as chairman of the Committee on Immigration (75th through 79th Congresses), the Committee on Manufactures (79th Congress), the Committee on Armed Services (82nd and 84th through 90th Congresses), and the Committee on Appropriations (91st Congress). As the senior senator, he became President pro tempore of the Senate during the 91st and 92nd Congresses.

Russell at first supported the New Deal and in 1936, he defeated the demagogic Governor Eugene Talmadge by defending the New Deal as good for Georgia. By 1937, however, Russell became a leader of the conservative coalition, and wielded significant influence within the Senate from 1937 to 1964. He proclaimed his faith in the "family farm" and supported most New Deal programs for parity, rural electrification, and farm loans, and supported promoting agricultural research, providing school lunches and giving surplus commodities to the poor. He was the chief sponsor of the National School Lunch Act of 1946 with the dual goals of providing proper nutrition for all children and of subsidizing agriculture. He ran as a regional candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, winning widespread newspaper acclaim but few delegates.

During World War II, he was known for his uncompromising position towards Japan and its civilian casualties. He held that Japan should not be treated with more lenience than Germany, and that the United States should not encourage Japan to sue for peace.

Russell was a highly respected senatorial colleague and skilled legislator. He chaired the Senate investigation into the firing of General Douglas MacArthur. Conducted during a political firestorm over the firing, Russell's chairmanship prevented public rancor and the layered political motivations that surrounded the firing from interfering with a dignified and insightful investigation into the incident. Military historians have printed transcripts of the hearings to instruct on the proper relationship between civilian and military officials in a democracy.

Russell competed in the 1952 Democratic presidential primary, but was shut out of serious consideration by northern Democratic leaders who saw his support for segregation as untenable outside of the Jim Crow South. When Lyndon Johnson arrived in the Senate, he sought guidance from knowledgeable Senate aide Bobby Baker, who advised that all senators were "equal" but Russell was the most "equal"—meaning the most powerful. Johnson assiduously cultivated Russell through all of their joint Senate years and beyond. Russell's support for first-term senator Lyndon Johnson paved the way for Johnson to become Senate Majority Leader. Russell often dined at Johnson's house during their Senate days. However, their 20-year friendship came to an end during Johnson's presidency, in a fight over the Chief Justice nomination of Johnson's friend and Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas in 1968.

In early 1956, Russell's office was continually used as a meeting place by his fellow senators Strom Thurmond, James Eastland, Allen Ellender, and John Stennis, the four having a commonality of being dispirited with Brown v. Board of Education.

In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy requested Russell place the Presidential wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during an appearance at Arlington National Cemetery for a Memorial Day ceremony.

Russell scheduled a closed door meeting for the Senate Armed Services Committee for August 31, 1961, at the time of Senator Strom Thurmond requesting the committee vote on whether to vote for "a conspiracy to muzzle military anti-Communist drives."

In late February 1963, the Senate Armed Services Committee was briefed by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Russell stating afterward that he was of the view that American airmen would strike down foreign jets in international waters and only inquire on the aircraft’s purpose there afterward.

In January 1964, President Johnson delivered the 1964 State of the Union Address, calling for Congress to "lift by legislation the bars of discrimination against those who seek entry into our country, particularly those who have much needed skills and those joining their families." Russell issued a statement afterward stating the commitment by Southern senators to oppose such a measure, which he called "shortsighted and disastrous", while admitting the high probability of it passing. He added that the civil rights bill's true intended effect was to intermingle races, eliminate states' rights as well as abolish the checks and balances system.

While a prime mentor of Johnson, Russell and the then-president Johnson also disagreed over civil rights. Russell, a segregationist, had repeatedly blocked and defeated civil rights legislation via use of the filibuster, and had co-authored the Southern Manifesto in opposition to civil rights. He had not supported the States Rights' Democratic Party of Strom Thurmond in 1948, but he opposed civil rights laws as unconstitutional and unwise. Unlike Theodore Bilbo, "Cotton Ed" Smith and James Eastland, who had reputations as ruthless, tough-talking, heavy-handed race baiters, he never justified hatred or acts of violence to defend segregation. But he strongly defended white supremacy and apparently did not question it or ever apologize for his segregationist views, votes and speeches. Russell was key, for decades, in blocking meaningful civil rights legislation intended to protect African-Americans from lynching, disenfranchisement, and disparate treatment under the law. After Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Russell (along with more than a dozen other southern Senators, including Herman Talmadge and Russell Long) boycotted the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

From 1963 to 1964, Russell was one of the members of the Warren Commission, which was charged to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Russell's personal papers indicated that he was troubled by the Commission's single-bullet theory, the Soviet Union's failure to provide greater detail regarding Lee Harvey Oswald's period in Russia, and the lack of information regarding Oswald's Cuba-related activities.

In June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his decision to retire, President Johnson afterward announcing the nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas for the position. David Greenburg wrote that when Russell "decided in early July to oppose Fortas, he brought most of his fellow Dixiecrats with him."

Russell was a prominent supporter of a strong national defense. He used his powers as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1951 to 1969 and then as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee as an institutional base to add defense installations and jobs for Georgia. He was dubious about the Vietnam War, privately warning President Johnson repeatedly against deeper involvement.

A statue of Russell by Frederick Hart is in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.

Personal life

Russell died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center due to complications from emphysema. He is buried in the Russell family cemetery behind the Russell home near Winder. This area was designated as the Russell Homeplace Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

His younger brother, Robert Lee Russell, was a lawyer and served as a federal judge, appointed by President Roosevelt and later by President Truman. Brother-in-law Hugh Peterson served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1935 to 1947.

Russell was the uncle of Betty Russell Vandiver, and his support aided the career of her husband, Ernest Vandiver, who was lieutenant governor of Georgia from 1955 to 1959 and governor from 1959 to 1963. After Russell's death in 1971, Ernest Vandiver was disappointed at not being named as an interim replacement. He ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 1972.

Russell was a lifelong bachelor.


Russell has been honored by having the following named for him:

  • The Russell Hall, one of the academic buildings of Gordon State College.
  • The Russell Senate Office Building, oldest of the three U.S. Senate office buildings. In 2018, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer called for the renaming of the building with the name of recently deceased Senator John McCain.
  • The Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta.
  • Russell Hall dormitory and the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Building which houses the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southern Center in Athens, Georgia.
  • The Russell Auditorium at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.
  • Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake, part of the Richard B. Russell Multiple Resource Area, located on the upper Savannah River between Elberton, Georgia, and Calhoun Falls, South Carolina. A Georgia state park on the shores of that lake also bears Russell's name.
  • The Richard B. Russell Airport in Rome, Georgia, the regional general aviation airport serving Floyd County, Georgia.
  • USS Richard B. Russell (SSN-687), a United States Navy submarine which served from 1975 to 1994.
  • Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, a national scenic byway in the Georgia mountains.
  • Richard B. Russell Parkway, one of two major commercial thoroughfares and commuter-connectors to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.
  • Russell Elementary School just off of Russell Pkwy (mentioned above) in Warner Robins.
  • Richard B. Russell Elementary School in Smyrna, Georgia.
  • Richard B. Russell Jr. Middle School in Winder, Georgia.
  • A bronze statue of Russell stands on the lawn of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.
  • The actor Wright King played Russell in the 1974 ABC television film, The Missiles of October, a study of John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • He was portrayed by Frank Langella in the 2016 HBO television drama All the Way.
  • The Kennedys, episode 5.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Southern Victory novel series, the Confederate ambassador to the United States in 1941 is heavily implied to be Russell, before being declared persona non grata by the United States, prior to the start of an alternate World War II.
  • The United States Postal Service honored Russell with a 10¢ Great Americans series postage stamp on May 31, 1984.
  • Senator Russell's Sweet Potatoes are a favorite southern dish around the holidays.

Further sources

Primary sources

Scholarly secondary sources

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 03 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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