Politics

Richard Russell Building: The Southern Monuments Of The Senate

Naming the senate office building, currently the Richard Russell Building, for Senator John McCain should be a no-brainer. The man was indeed a giant of the Senate, and of course a military hero.

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Richard Russell Building
By USCapitol (Richard B. Russell Statue) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But renaming the Senator Richard Russell building for John McCain was just too much to bear for a gaggle of Republican senators representing states in the deep South.

These senators are, in some respects, the direct political descendants of the old segregationist Democrats – led by Senator Richard Russell of Georgia – who fiercely opposed the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s, which rid the region of its Jim Crow laws.

Today, some of these same gentlemen support measures to restore the good old Jim Crow days by resorting to various black voter suppression measures such as requiring government issued photo IDs and curtailing the voting hours and locations in predominately black areas.

The opposition to renaming the Richard Russell building for John McCain is much more a pro-Russell than anti-McCain gesture. And aside from his despicable views on Jim Crow and civil rights, Russell was a pretty decent senator – one who sagely advised his close friend, President Lyndon Johnson, that sending large numbers of American troops to Vietnam would be a terrible mistake. In sum, Russell was certainly a giant of the Senate, but a deeply flawed one.

Now let’s name names. Only one senator from the deep South, Tim Scott of South Carolina – the only Black Republican in the Senate – openly supports the name change. Interestingly, even his South Carolina colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham – who had long been McCain’s closest friend in the Senate – is noncommittal.

Now let’s name the senators who at least initially are opposing renaming the Richard Russell building for John McCain: David Perdue and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Richard Shelby of Alabama, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana – all deep South states. And also Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Were a modern-day John F. Kennedy to write a sequel to his Profiles in Courage, it would not be very likely that any of these senators would make the cut.