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Richard Russell Jr.
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 21, 1971
Preceded byCarl Hayden
Succeeded byAllen J. Ellender
Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 21, 1971
LeaderMike Mansfield
Preceded byCarl Hayden
Succeeded byAllen Ellender
Chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1969
LeaderLyndon B. Johnson
Mike Mansfield
Preceded byLeverett Saltonstall
Succeeded byJohn C. Stennis
In office
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1953
LeaderErnest McFarland
Preceded byMillard Tydings
Succeeded byLeverett Saltonstall
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
January 12, 1933 – January 21, 1971
Preceded byJohn S. Cohen
Succeeded byDavid H. Gambrell
66th Governor of Georgia
In office
June 27, 1931 – January 10, 1933
Preceded byLamartine Griffin Hardman
Succeeded byEugene Talmadge
Member of the
Georgia House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Richard Brevard Russell Jr.

(1897-11-02)November 2, 1897
Winder, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 21, 1971(1971-01-21) (aged 73)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Parent(s)Richard Russell Sr.
Ina Dillard
RelativesRobert Lee Russell (brother)
Alma materGordon State College
University of Georgia School of Law
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Battles/warsWorld War I

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.[1][2] He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.[3]

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.[4] He supported the New Deal[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

Russell supported racial segregation and co-authored the Southern Manifesto with Strom Thurmond.[8] Russell and 17 fellow Democratic Senators, along with one Republican, blocked the passage of civil rights legislation via the filibuster. After Russell's protégé, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law,[9] Russell led a Southern boycott of the 1964 Democratic National Convention.[10] 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 born to Ina (née Dillard) and Richard Brevard Russell. His father became 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 College in Barnesville, Georgia, the following year.

Russell enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law in 1915 and earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1918.[11] 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 and joined the Democratic Party.

Dominated by white conservatives, Democrats controlled state government and the Congressional delegation. The Republican Party was no longer competitive, hollowed out in the state following the effective disenfranchisement of most blacks by Georgia's approval of a constitutional amendment, effective in 1908, requiring a literacy test, but providing a "grandfather clause" to create exceptions for whites.[12]

Political career - Governor of Georgia, 1931–1933

Russell was quickly successful in elective office. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1920, and repeatedly gained re-election, serving 1921–31. He was elected as speaker of the house, serving 1927–31.

This meteoric rise in politics was capped by his election in 1930, at age 33, as Governor of Georgia. He was sworn into office in January 1931 by his father, who had become a Georgia Supreme Court justice nine years before.

Russell was governor who reorganized the bureaucracy, promoted economic development in the midst of the Great Depression, and balanced the state budget.[13]

Russell became embroiled in an extradition controversy in 1932. White convict Robert Elliott Burns, serving time on a Georgia chain gang, had escaped in the 1920s to New Jersey. Years later Burns wrote an account of his imprisonment, and his book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! was published in 1932. It condemned the Georgia prison system and convict leasing as inhumane. It was quickly adapted as a successful motion picture of the same name, starring Paul Muni. Russell demanded extradition of Burns but New Jersey refused, and Russell was attacked from all quarters.[citation needed]

Senate career, 1933–1971

Following the death of U.S. Senator William J. Harris in 1932, Governor Russell ran in a special election called to fill the seat for the rest of the term. Russell defeated Congressman Charles R. Crisp to serve the remainder of Harris's term.

He was elected on his own in 1936 to serve a full term, 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 of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. In 1936, he defeated the demagogic former Governor Eugene Talmadge for the US Senate seat by defending the New Deal as good for Georgia.[14]

By 1937 Russell became a leader of the conservative coalition, made up of both Republicans and Southern Democrats, who wielded significant influence within the Senate from 1937 to 1964. The coalition controlled important committees, and resisted many efforts during this time to pass progressive legislation. Russell proclaimed his faith in the "family farm" and supported most New Deal programs for parity, rural electrification, and farm loans. He also 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.

Russell and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963
Russell and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963

During World War II, Russell was known for his uncompromising position toward Japan and its civilian casualties. In the late months of the war, he held that the US should not treat Japan with more lenience than Germany, and that the United States should not encourage Japan to sue for peace.[15]

Russell was a highly respected senatorial colleague and skilled legislator.[citation needed] 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 as an example 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. They believed that his support for segregation was untenable outside of the Jim Crow South. When Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) was elected to the Senate, he sought guidance from knowledgeable Senate aide Bobby Baker. He said 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 B. Johnson paved the way for Johnson to become Senate Majority Leader. Russell often dined at Johnson's house during their Senate days. But, their 20-year friendship came to an end during Johnson's presidency, in a fight over the 1968 nomination as Chief Justice of Abe Fortas, Johnson's friend and Supreme Court justice.[16][page needed]

In early 1956, Russell's office was continually used as a meeting place by Southern 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, the 1954 ruling by the US Supreme Court that said that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.[17]

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.[18]

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 to investigate "a conspiracy to muzzle military anti-Communist drives."[19]

In late February 1963, the Senate Armed Services Committee was briefed by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on policy in the Caribbean. Russell said afterward that he believed that American airmen would strike down foreign jets in international waters and only inquire on the aircraft’s purpose there afterward.[20]

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."[21] 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, and abolish the checks and balances system.[22]

Although he had served as a prime mentor of Johnson, Russell and Johnson disagreed over civil rights. Johnson supported this as President. Russell, a segregationist, had repeatedly blocked and defeated federal civil rights legislation via use of the filibuster,[23] and had co-authored the Southern Manifesto, which opposed school desegregation and civil rights. He had not supported the States Rights' Democratic Party of Strom Thurmond in 1948, but he opposed federal 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, Russell 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.[24] 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.[25]

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 in November 1963. 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.[26][27]

In June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his decision to retire. President Johnson afterward announced 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."[28] The friendship between Russell and Johnson ended over his opposition to this nomination.

Russell was a prominent supporter of a strong national defense.[29] 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 gain defense installations and jobs for Georgia. He was dubious about the Vietnam War, privately warning President Johnson repeatedly against deeper involvement.[30]

A statue of Russell by Frederick Hart is in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building.
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 by new governor Jimmy Carter. He ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 1972.

Russell was a lifelong bachelor.


Russell was seen as a hero by many of the pro Jim Crow South. While undoubtedly a skilled politician of immense influence, his legacy is marred by his lifelong support of white supremacy. Russell publicly said that America was “a white man’s country, yes, and we are going to keep it that way.” He also said he was vehemently opposed to “political and social equality with the Negro.” Russell also support racist poll taxes across the South and called President Truman's support of civil rights for black American's an, “uncalled-for attack on our Southern civilization."[31]

Despite Russell's fervent support of white supremacy, Russell has been honored by having the following named for him:

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ root. "Richard Brevard Russell". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  2. ^ "Sen. Richard B. Russell". The American Legion. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  3. ^ "Civil Rights Movement". Black History. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  4. ^ "William J. Harris biography". Genealogy Magazine. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  5. ^ "The Great Depression and the New Deal (1929 to 1941)". U.S. Embassy & Consulate in Korea. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  6. ^ "National School Lunch Act". Food and Nutrition Service, USDA. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  7. ^ "Warren Commission – Introduction". National Archives. August 15, 2016. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Southern Manifesto introduced, March 12, 1956". Politico. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  9. ^ "LBJ signs landmark Civil Rights Act, July 2, 1964". Politico. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "The 1964 Democratic National Convention and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party – the DLG B". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  11. ^ "Russell, Richard Brevard, Jr. – Biographical Information". Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  12. ^ "August 21: Georgia's Literacy Test". Today in Georgia History. Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting. 2011–2013. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
  13. ^ "Richard B. Russell, Jr. Collection, Subgroup A: Georgia Legislative/Speaker of the House Papers". Archived from the original on June 11, 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  14. ^ Boyd, Tim S. R. (2012). Georgia Democrats, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Shaping of the New South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. p. 35. ISBN 9780813061474.
  15. ^ "The foul attack on Pearl Harbor brought us into war and I am unable to see any valid reason why we should be so much more considerate of Japan and lenient in dealing with Japan than with Germany. I earnestly insist Japan should be dealt with as harshly as Germany and that she should not be a beneficiary of a soft peace... If we do not have available a sufficient number of atomic bombs with which to finish the job immediately, let us carry on with TNT and firebombs until we can produce them. I also hope that you will issue orders forbidding the officers in command of our Air Forces from warning Japanese cities that they will be attacked. These generals do not fly over Japan and this showmanship can only result in the unnecessary loss of many of our fine boys in our Air Force as well as our helpless prisoners in the hands of the Japanese, including the survivors on the march of death on Bataan who are certain to be brought into the cities that have been warned. This was a total war as long as our enemies held all the cards. Why should we change the rules now, after the blood, treasure and enterprise of the American People have given us the upper hand. Our people have not forgotten that the Japanese stuck us the first blow in this war without the slightest warning. They believe that we should continue to strike the Japanese until they are brought groveling to their knees. We should cease our appeals to Japan to sue for peace. The next plea for peace should come from an utterly destroyed Tokyo..." "Correspondence between Richard Russell and Harry S. Truman, August 7 and 9, 1945, regarding the situation with Japan." Papers of Harry S. Truman: Official File. Truman Library
  16. ^ Laura Kalman (1990). Abe Fortas. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300046694. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  17. ^ Woods, Randall (2006). LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Free Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-0684834580.
  18. ^ "Russell to Honor Dead; Georgia Senator to Put Wreath at Tomb of Unknowns". New York Times. May 24, 1961.
  19. ^ "Sen. Thurmond Ask Probe of Plot to Muzzle". Yuma Sun Newspaper. August 30, 1961.
  20. ^ "U.S. Maps Tougher Policy In Caribbean". Sarasota Herald Tribune.
  21. ^ Johnson, Lyndon B. (January 8, 1964). "91 – Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union". American Presidency Project.
  22. ^ "South's Senators To Fight 'Rights'". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. January 9, 1964.
  23. ^ Oberdorfer, Don (March 13, 1965). "The Filibuster's Best Friend". Saturday Evening Post. 238 (5): 90. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  24. ^ Caro, 2002
  25. ^ Kornacki, Steve (2011-02-03) The "Southern Strategy," fulfilled,
  26. ^ "Senator Russell's papers show he disagreed with Warren report". Rome News-Tribune. 150 (246). Rome, Georgia. AP. October 17, 1993. p. 6–A.
  27. ^ "HSCA Report, Vol. 11" (PDF). p. 14.
  28. ^ "The Republicans' Filibuster Lie". Los Angeles Times. May 3, 2005.
  29. ^ Gilbert C. Fite, Richard B. Russell, Jr., Senator From Georgia (1991) pp. 349–70.
  30. ^ "LBJ AND RICHARD RUSSELL ON VIETNAM". UVA Miller Center. May 27, 1964.
  31. ^ Zeitz, Joshua. "Why It's Time to Rename the Russell Office Building". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved January 5, 2022.
  32. ^ Rubin, Jennifer (August 29, 2018). "Republicans can't even agree to take a segregationist's name off a building". Washington Post.
  33. ^ "Facilities". September 10, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  34. ^ "Georgia State Parks – Richard B. Russell State Park". Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  35. ^ "Richard B Russell Airport". Archived from the original on May 4, 2009.
  36. ^ "Senator Russell's Sweet Potato Casserole". My Food and Family.
  37. ^ "Senator Russell's Sweet Potato Casserole – Lost Recipes Found".

Further sources

Primary sources

Scholarly secondary sources

External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Gilbert Fite on Richard B. Russell, Jr., Senator From Georgia, August 2, 1992 C-SPAN
Party political offices Preceded byLamartine Griffin Hardman Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia 1930 Succeeded byEugene Talmadge Preceded byWilliam J. Harris Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Georgia(Class 2) 1932, 1936, 1942, 1948, 1954, 1960, 1966 Succeeded bySam Nunn Political offices Preceded byLamartine G. Hardman Governor of Georgia 1931–1933 Succeeded byEugene Talmadge Preceded byMillard TydingsMaryland Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee 1951–1953 Succeeded byLeverett SaltonstallMassachusetts Preceded byLeverett SaltonstallMassachusetts Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee 1955–1969 Succeeded byJohn C. StennisMississippi Preceded byCarl T. Hayden Arizona President pro tempore of the United States Senate 1969–1971 Succeeded byAllen J. Ellender Louisiana Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee 1969–1971 U.S. Senate Preceded byJohn S. Cohen U.S. senator (Class 2) from Georgia 1933–1971 Served alongside: Walter F. George, Herman Talmadge Succeeded byDavid H. Gambrell Honorary titles Preceded byCarl T. HaydenArizona Dean of the United States Senate January 3, 1969 – January 21, 1971 Succeeded byAllen J. EllenderLouisiana