Want to ‘Highlight’ Senators Blocking Voting Rights? Rename the Russell Senate Office Building!
On this Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day and in this era of reconsidering monuments to people who built their careers on racism, it’s time to rename the Russell Senate Office Building, where 33 senators today conduct their daily business.
This is not just a symbolic gesture: follow along with me for a moment.
Democratic Senator Richard Russell was most famous as the guy who wielded the filibuster to destroy Civil Rights legislation. Most of the time he was quite successful, spending decades scuttling legislation proposed to outlaw lynching, end school segregation, or to insure voting rights.
In 1932 Russell, then the openly segregationist Governor of Georgia, won election to the US Senate from that state, taking office in 1933. He immediately joined the “Southern Bloc” to fight northern Democrats Robert Wagner’s and Edward Costigan’s proposed 1933 legislation to outlaw lynching.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt had joined the NAACP by then and was an outspoken advocate of the anti-lynching legislation, which so pissed off Southern Democrats like Russell that they threatened to block parts of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation if he signed onto the bill.
Their efforts notwithstanding, the anti-lynching legislation championed by Eleanor Roosevelt and Robert Wagner made it through the House: it landed in the Senate with a thud.
Richard Russell immediately stepped up to kill the bill, establishing a pattern of opposing Civil Rights legislation that held for his entire political career.
“As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the old South,” Russell said when the legislation was brought forward, “with six generations of my forebears now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.”
That man — who proudly and eloquently proclaimed he was willing to lay down his life to defend white supremacy — is now memorialized daily, every time somebody notices or mentions his name in the context of the oldest and most storied of the Senate’s three office buildings.
Russell was so passionate about maintaining the right of white people to hang Black…