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Richard Brevard Russell, Jr.
About North Georgia

Introduction

Son of a governor, Richard B. Russell grew up to become a governor himself, then a senator. His legacy includes his strong, early support for hydroelectric power, his leadership against the civil rights movement, an attempt to become President of the United States, dissident member of the Warren Commission, member and eventually chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee,

Biographical

Born:November 2, 1897, Winder, GA
Died January 21, 1971 Washington D. C.

Early career

It seems that serving Georgia ran in Richard Brevard Russell's blood. Throughout his entire adult life he served as an elected official, beloved by his constituency, respected by his peers, and dedicated to the beliefs that he had been brought up with. In 1952 he ran in the Democratic primaries for President, only to lose because he refused to renounce segregation.

Richard B. Russell Georgia governor Senator and Presidential candidate 1952
Georgia Governor Richard B. Russell
Born on a cool November morning near Winder, GA. he grew up in a segregated society, and felt that this separation of the races was important to the social and political structure of the state. After graduation from the University of Georgia Athens in 1918, he tried to join the Navy, but World War I was ending and the Navy was discharging and not enlisting. Like his father, Richard Brevard Russell, Sr., young Dick Russell had graduated with a law degree from the prestigious school of law at UGA. He became county attorney for Barrow County.

In 1920 Russell decided to run for the Georgia House on a campaign that included strong stances on public education and good roads. Richard B. Russell held his first elected position. He was two months shy of his 24th birthday.

He quickly became popular among the other state representatives, making friends with his warm, good old boy personality with an occasional flash of anger when he felt betrayed. He was elected Speaker of the Georgia House in 1926, when he was 28. In 1926 his father ran for governor of Georgia and lost. The following election Russell ran for governor and won a plurality, but not a majority, forcing a run-off in the five man Democratic primary. Three weeks later Russell defeated George Carswell to become chief of Georgia's executive branch of government. Once again his campaign highlighted good roads and public education.

Georgia Governor

During the years that Dick Russell served as governor, he faced many difficult decisions. With state revenues falling, cuts needed to be implemented to bring the state's books in balance. Additionally, the state had already been spending more than it took in, a problem which Russell also had to deal with. Finally, unemployment was rampant, courtesy of the Great Depression, falling cotton prices and falling cotton production thanks to the boll weevil. Between 1931 and 1933 Russell worked on reorganizing the government, making it more productive and less corrupt. He also expanded the number of roads, including building a highway from Atlanta to Brunswick via Waycross.

U. S. Senator

U. S. Senator William J. Harris died in office on April 18, 1932. Governor Russell decided to run for this position against Charles Crisp, a legislator from Americus. Russell defeated Crisp easily, 162,745 to 119,193. Over the next 4 decades Russell became a Washington power, especially as a powerful committee chairman. He remained unmarried throughout his life.

In Washington Russell became known as a supporter of a strong military, agriculture, and, unfortunately, segregation. He was appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chaired for years. Among the legislation he proposed was federal farm relief, soil conservation, rural electrification, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Farm Security Act, and The National School Lunch Act. Although a strong supporter of the military throughout his career he opposed the decision to send troops to Vietnam. He was a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. As President Pro Tem of the Senate, he was third in line to ascend to the presidency.

Run for President

In May, 1952 a blue convertible Cadillac turned a corner onto Peachtree St. in downtown Atlanta, with Richard B. Russell waving to a mostly white crowd of 250,000 people. Russell gave a speech that night to 3,400 people, talking about waste in government, championing state's rights and warning against corruption. This was his send-off to run for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Over the next 2 months, his stand in support of segregation would define this Georgia political icon. Growing up the racially segregated South, Russell not only defended his conviction that segregation was the only way of life for Georgia, he voted his conviction and in the end, paid the price for his way of thinking.

Richard B. Russell Georgia governor Senator and Presidential candidate 1952
Richard B. Russell
Russell actually had a pretty good chance at the nomination, with strong support in the South and many Democrats privately supporting him across the United States. Realizing that segregation would not sell in the north or the west coast of the United States, these Democrats asked Russell to renounce his stand on segregation. Russell refused, stating he believed ending segregation would destroy the fabric of Southern society. The Democrats chose Adlai Stevenson as their candidate.

From 1952 on, Russell fought a hopeless battle, trying to preserve the institution of segregation as it was dismantled piece by piece. After the historic 1954 Supreme Court ruling known as Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Mississippi Senator James Eastland stated "The South will not abide by nor obey this legislative decision by a political court." Richard B. Russell took a more moderate approach:
Ways must be found to check the tendency of the court to disregard the Constitution and the precedents of able and unbiased judges to decide cases solely on the basis of the personal predilections of some of its members as to political, economic and social questions

Civil Rights

Texas Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had been a Russell protégé, moved Civil Rights legislation through the Senate in 1957. It was the first such legislation passed by Congress in 80 years. Russell and others formed a "Southern bloc" of senators opposed to legislation giving equal rights to blacks. This bloc voted against the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and 1965, the programs of Johnson's Great Society, and many judicial nominations.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Russell oversaw virtually every aspect of funding of the U. S. Government. His opposition to the Vietnam War meant tough going for his old friend Lyndon Johnson, but Johnson prevailed.

Warren Commission

Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Russell's protege, Lyndon Johnson, appointed Russell to a committee investigating the act of violence. The Commission began hearing testimony in February, 1964. During the investigation, Russell became disenchanted with the process, but signed the report anyway because he did not want to embarrass the President. He would later tell the Atlanta Constitution in 1966 that he did not agree that Oswald acted alone.


In 1969, the senator was elected President Pro Tem of the Senate, a mostly ceremonial position except for the fact that it made Russell fourth in line for the presidency, after the Speaker of the House. This would be as close as Russell ever got to the position he coveted.

Want more information?
Richard B. Russell Timeline
Richard B. Russell Gallery on Roadside Georgia


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