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
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
RelativesRobert Lee Russell (brother)
Alma mater
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] 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

Richard B. Russell Jr. was born in 1897 as the first son of Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard B. Russell Sr. and Ina Dillard Russell.[11] He eventually had a total of twelve adult siblings, as well as two who died before adolescence.[12]

Throughout Russell Jr.'s childhood, his father made multiple attempts to run for higher political office. Though he was a well-liked state representative for Clarke County and a successful solicitor general for a seven-county circuit, he fared poorly in multiple attempts to become U.S. Senator for Georgia and Governor of Georgia.[12] Due to his political failures, the Russell family lived below their financial means at times.

From an early age, the elder Russell trained his son to exceed his father's legacy in the state. Due to the family's loss of their ancestral plantation and mill during Sherman's March, Russell spent much time studying Civil War history.

Russell enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law in 1915 and earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1918.[13] While at UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society.

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.[14]

Early political career

Following his time at college, Russell briefly worked at a law firm with his father before successfully running for the Georgia House of Representatives at the earliest opportunity.[15] Six years into his tenure, Russell ran unopposed for the Speakership at the age of 29. His popularity among his legislator colleagues came from his perceived integrity and willingness to build coalitions.[15]

Governor of Georgia, 1931–1933

Russell as governor

As governor, Russell reorganized the bureaucracy, promoted economic development in the midst of the Great Depression, and balanced the state budget.[16]

During Russell's governorship, World War I veteran Robert Elliot Burns released the autobiography I Am A Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, which had previously been serialized in True Detective magazine and would become a popular Paul Muni film in November 1932.[17] The book details the multiple stints Burns served in the Georgian penal system and his attempts to escape.

Following the release of the book and the film adaptation, Russell attempted to extradite Burns from the state of New Jersey so Burns could continue to serve his sentence. Russell denounced Burns' depictions of the horrific hard labor in his state, calling New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore's refusal to return Burns to Georgia "a slander on the state of Georgia and its institutions."[17]

Senate career, 1933–1971

Russell supported the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.[18][19] In 1936, he defeated the former demagogic Governor Eugene Talmadge for the US Senate seat by defending the New Deal as good for Georgia.[20] Russell was elected on a moderately progressive platform, and supported bailout and aid programs for local governments.[21] Once in the Senate, he became an ardent supporter of the Roosevelt administration and New Deal programs, and expressed his support for "the fullest measure of relief that the combined resources of this commonwealth will afford."[21] Russell endorsed almost every New Deal act during the "Hundred Days" Congress session; once a rift in the Democratic Party emerged in 1935, resulting in filibusters and deadlocks, Russell continued to support the President and the New Deal. Howard N. Mead observes that even "when many other Southern politicians began to express some measure of discontent with the administration and its proposals, Russell remained firm in his support".[21] When competing with conservative Talmadge for the Georgian Senate seat, Russell expressed his fervent support for income tax and social welfare, consistently praised the New Deal in his speeches, and attacked Talmadge for his fiscal conservatism.[21]

Russell continued to be an outspoken economic progressive even after World War II, and was the main sponsor of the 1946 National School Lunch Act, which was named after him.[22] He expanded and carried out projects to distribute surplus food of Georgia to poor families through food stamps and school lunch programs, and wished to tackle rural poverty.[22] After the establishment of a national school lunch program, Russell continuously pushed for funding it further throghout 1950s and 1960s, and sought active promotion and implementation of Georgian foods such as peanuts in the program, and saw it as a way to promote the interests of Georgian farmers.[22]

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 leniency than Germany, and that the United States should not encourage Japan to sue for peace.[23]

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.[24][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.[25]

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.[26]

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."[27]

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.[28]

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."[29] 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.[30]

Letter from Russell about Civil Rights Act

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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33]

Russell was considered to be moderate in his support for segregation;[21] in 1936, he often attacked race-baiting, such as the claim that New Deal legislation would mostly benefit black people.[21] W. J. Cash considered Russell "the better sort of Southerner," as he was ready to call out "ruffian appeals to race hatred" made by others.[21] James Thomas Gay claimed that Russell "wished blacks no ill;"[22] in the 1950s, Russell corresponded with a black voter from Dublin, Georgia, Hercules Moore, who raised concerns that African-American children were being treated unfairly in the school lunch program, which was funded federally. Russell took the matter seriously and "later gave Moore satisfactory evidence that the program was being properly administered for children of both races.".[22]

Russell strongly condemned President Truman's pro-desegregation stance and wrote that he was "sick at heart" over it, but unlike most Southern Democrats such as Strom Thurmond, he did not walk out of the convention.[34] Russell was one of the strongest opponents of every desegregation measure in the Senate, but he remained loyal to the party. Although he called the 1960 Democratic Party platform a "complete surrender to the NAACP and the other extreme radicals at Los Angeles", he did agree to campaign for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket for the 1960 United States presidential election.[34]

In 1952, Russell was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination; while he did not discuss civil rights while campaigning, his platform named "local self-government" one of the major "Jeffersonian Principles".[34] Russell claimed that the goal of his candidacy was to showcase the principles of "Southern Democracy" and to allow Southern Democrats to form a united front against the North. While he decisively defeated Estes Kefauver in the Florida primary, Russell was opposed by most of Democrats as he refused to support the civil rights plank of the party.[34]

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.[35][36]

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."[37]

Russell was a prominent supporter of a strong national defense.[38] 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.[39]

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


Russell was seen as a hero by many of the pro Jim Crow South. While undoubtedly a skilled politician of immense influence, his lifelong support of white supremacy has marred his legacy.[40] 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 supported poll taxes across the South and called President Truman's support of civil rights for black Americans an “uncalled-for attack on our Southern civilization."[41]

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

In 2020, former Georgia Board of Regents Chairman Sachin Shailendra and then Chancellor Steve Wrigley of the University System of Georgia tasked an advisory group to review the names of buildings and colleges across all campuses within the USG. Members of the advisory group consisted of Marion Fedrick, the tenth and current president of Albany State University in Albany, Georgia, Michael Patrick of Chick-fil-A, retired judge Herbert Phipps of the Georgia Court of Appeals, current chairman of the University of Georgia Foundation, Neal J. Quirk Sr., and Dr. Sally Wallace, the current dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies of Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia.[51]

Despite recommendations from the advisory group to rename all buildings associated with Russell, the Georgia Board of Regents did not move forward with any of the final recommendations from the advisory group's report.[52]

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. Archived from the original on July 5, 2018. 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". September 3, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  11. ^ "Richard B. Russell Jr". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 24, 2023.
  12. ^ a b Caro, Robert (2002). Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 164–169. ISBN 0-394-52836-0.
  13. ^ "Russell, Richard Brevard Jr. – Biographical Information". Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  14. ^ "August 21: Georgia's Literacy Test". Today in Georgia History. Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting. 2011–2013. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Caro, Robert (2002). Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 169–172. ISBN 0-394-52836-0.
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ a b Caro, Robert (2002). Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 188–189. ISBN 0-394-52836-0.
  18. ^ Dedication and Unveiling of the Statue of Richard Brevard Russell, Jr., P.31
  19. ^ Richard B. Russell, Jr., Senator from Georgia By Gilbert C. Fite, 1991, P.134
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Mead, Howard N. (1981). "Russell vs. Talmadge: Southern Politics and the New Deal". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 65 (1). Georgia Historical Society: 28–45.
  22. ^ a b c d e Gay, James Thomas (1996). "Richard B. Russell and the National School Lunch Program". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 80 (4). Georgia Historical Society: 859–872.
  23. ^ "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
  24. ^ Laura Kalman (1990). Abe Fortas. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300046694. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  25. ^ Woods, Randall (2006). LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. Free Press. p. 303. ISBN 978-0684834580.
  26. ^ "Russell to Honor Dead; Georgia Senator to Put Wreath at Tomb of Unknowns". The New York Times. May 24, 1961.
  27. ^ "Sen. Thurmond Ask Probe of Plot to Muzzle". Yuma Sun Newspaper. August 30, 1961.
  28. ^ "U.S. Maps Tougher Policy In Caribbean". Sarasota Herald Tribune.
  29. ^ Johnson, Lyndon B. (January 8, 1964). "91 – Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union". American Presidency Project.
  30. ^ "South's Senators To Fight 'Rights'". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. January 9, 1964.
  31. ^ Oberdorfer, Don (March 13, 1965). "The Filibuster's Best Friend". Saturday Evening Post. 238 (5): 90. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  32. ^ Caro, 2002
  33. ^ Kornacki, Steve (2011-02-03) The "Southern Strategy," fulfilled,
  34. ^ a b c d Stern, Mark (1991). "Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell: Institutions, Ambitions and Civil Rights". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 21 (4). Wiley on behalf of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress: 687–704.
  35. ^ "Senator Russell's papers show he disagreed with Warren report". Rome News-Tribune. Vol. 150, no. 246. Rome, Georgia. AP. October 17, 1993. p. 6–A.
  36. ^ "HSCA Report, Vol. 11" (PDF). p. 14.
  37. ^ "The Republicans' Filibuster Lie". Los Angeles Times. May 3, 2005.
  38. ^ Gilbert C. Fite, Richard B. Russell Jr., Senator From Georgia (1991) pp. 349–70.
  39. ^ "LBJ AND RICHARD RUSSELL ON VIETNAM". UVA Miller Center. May 27, 1964.
  40. ^ Rubin, Jennifer (August 29, 2018). "Republicans can't even agree to take a segregationist's name off a building". Washington Post.
  41. ^ Zeitz, Joshua (September 30, 2018). "Why It's Time to Rename the Russell Office Building". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved January 5, 2022.
  42. ^ Rubin, Jennifer (August 29, 2018). "Republicans can't even agree to take a segregationist's name off a building". Washington Post.
  43. ^ "Richard B. Russell Building, Special Collections Libraries | UGA Libraries". Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  44. ^ "Russell Hall – University Housing". Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  45. ^ "HSC Russell Hall | University Architects". Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  46. ^ "Facilities". September 10, 2015. Archived from the original on September 6, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  47. ^ "Georgia State Parks – Richard B. Russell State Park". Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  48. ^ "Richard B Russell Airport". Archived from the original on May 4, 2009.
  49. ^ "Senator Russell's Sweet Potato Casserole". My Food and Family.
  50. ^ "Senator Russell's Sweet Potato Casserole – Lost Recipes Found".
  51. ^ "Advisory Group To Review Names Used On University System of Georgia Campuses | Communications | University System of Georgia". Retrieved November 9, 2022.
  52. ^ "Naming Advisory Group | University System of Georgia". Retrieved November 9, 2022.

Further sources

Primary sources

Scholarly secondary sources

External videos
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