Sen. Richard Brevard Russell, Jr.

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Sen. Richard Brevard Russell, Jr.

Birthplace: Winder, Barrow County, GA, United States
Death: January 21, 1971 (73)
Washington, DC, United States
Place of Burial: Winder, Barrow County, GA, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Chief Justice Richard Brevard Russell, Sr. and Blandina Russell
Brother of Mary "Billie" Willie Greene; Ina Dillard Stacy; Marguerite Bowden (Russell); Harriette Brumby Russell; Robert Lee Russell, Sr. and 9 others

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About Sen. Richard Brevard Russell, Jr.

Richard Brevard Russell, Jr. (November 2, 1897 – January 21, 1971) was a Democratic Party politician from the southeastern state of Georgia. He served as state governor from 1931 to 1933 and United States senator 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. He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.

Early life

Russell was born in Winder, Georgia, the fourth of fifteen children of Richard Brevard Russell, Sr., 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 Institute in Barnesville, Georgia, the following year. Russell then enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law in 1915 and earned a Bachelor of Laws (B.L.) degree in 1918. While at UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society.

Governor of Georgia

Russell served in the enlisted ranks of the United States Naval Reserve Forces in 1918 and, in 1919, set up law practice with his father in Winder. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives (1921–31), serving as its speaker (1927–31). His meteoric rise was capped by election, at age 33, as Governor of Georgia, serving from 1931 to 1933. He was a progressive governor who reorganized the bureaucracy, promoted economic development in the midst of the Great Depression, and balanced the budget. He became embroiled in controversy, however, when in 1932 Robert Elliott Burns, serving time on a Georgia chain gang, escaped to New Jersey and wrote a book entitled I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang, condemning the Georgia prison system as inhumane. It became a popular movie, but Russell demanded extradition. New Jersey refused, and Russell was attacked from all quarters.

Senate career

Following the death of U.S. Senator William J. Harris in 1932, Governor Russell defeated Congressman Charles R. Crisp to serve the remainder of Harris' term; he was elected on his own to serve a full term in 1936 and was subsequently re-elected in 1942, 1948, 1954, 1960, and 1966. During his long tenure in the Senate, Russell served as chairman on Committee on Immigration (75th through 79th Congresses), Committee on Manufactures (79th Congress), Committee on Armed Services (82nd and 84th through 90th Congresses), and 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 and in 1936, he defeated the demagogic Governor Eugene Talmadge by defending the New Deal as good for Georgia. By 1937, however, Russell became a leader of the conservative coalition, and wielded significant influence within the Senate from 1937 to 1964. He proclaimed his faith in the "family farm" and supported most New Deal programs for parity, rural electrification, and farm loans, and 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. He was a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

During World War II, he was known for his uncompromising position towards Japan and its civilian casualties. He held that Japan should not be treated with more lenience than Germany, and that the United States should not encourage Japan to sue for peace.

Russell was a highly respected senatorial colleague and skilled legislator. Russell chaired the Senate investigation into the firing of General Douglas MacArthur. Conducted during a political firestorm over the firing, Russell's chairmanship prevented national rancor and layered political motivations surrounding the firing from interfering in a dignified and insightful investigation into the incident. Military historians have printed transcripts of the hearings 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 who saw his support for segregation as untenable outside of the Jim Crow South. When Lyndon Johnson arrived in the Senate, he sought guidance from knowledgeable senate aide Bobby Baker, who advised 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 Johnson paved the way for Johnson to become Senate Majority Leader. Russell often dined at Johnson's house during their Senate days. However, their 20-year friendship came to an end during Johnson's presidency, in a fight over the Chief Justice nomination of Johnson's friend and Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas in 1969.

While a prime mentor of Johnson, Russell and the then-president Johnson also disagreed over civil rights. Russell, a segregationist, had repeatedly blocked and defeated civil rights legislation via use of the filibuster and had co-authored the Southern Manifesto in opposition to civil rights. He had not supported the States Rights' Democratic Party of Strom Thurmond in 1948, but he opposed 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, he 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 that might have protected African-Americans from lynching, disenfranchisement, and disparate treatment under the law. 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.

A prominent supporter of a strong national defense, Russell became in the 1950s the most knowledgeable and powerful congressional leader in this area. 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 add defense installations and jobs for Georgia. He was dubious about the Vietnam War, privately warning President Johnson repeatedly against deeper involvement.

Personal life

Russell died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. 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.

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. He ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 1972.

Richard Russell was a lifelong bachelor.


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

The Russell Senate Office Building, oldest of the three U.S. Senate office buildings

The Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta

Russell Hall dormitory and the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southern Center in Athens, Georgia.

Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake, located on the upper Savannah River between Elberton, Georgia and Calhoun Falls, South Carolina. A Georgia state park on the shores of that lake also bears Russell's name.

The Richard B. Russell Airport in Rome, Georgia, the regional general aviation airport serving Floyd County, Georgia.

A submarine of the United States Navy.

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, a national scenic byway in the Georgia mountains.

Richard B. Russell Parkway, one of two major commercial thoroughfares and commuter-connectors to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.

Russell Elementary School just off of Russell Pkwy (mentioned above) in Warner Robins.

Richard B. Russell Elementary School in Smyrna, Georgia.

Richard B. Russell Jr. Middle School in Winder, Georgia.

A bronze statue of Russell stands on the lawn of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.

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Sen. Richard Brevard Russell, Jr.'s Timeline

November 2, 1897
Winder, Barrow County, GA, United States
January 21, 1971
Age 73
Washington, DC, United States
Winder, Barrow County, GA, United States