Reverend Raphael Warnock made history last night. He made change. He did so by winning a Senate seat in Georgia. He will be the first black senator to represent the state. After about two and a half centuries, he will be the first!
Some of Rev. Warnock’s new colleagues, or maybe Warnock himself, will have an office in the Russell Senate Office Building. The building was named after Richard Russell, a senator who served from 1933 to 1971. He represented the people of Georgia, the same people Rev. Warnock will represent.
In an interview, historian Robert Caro, the writer of those great Lyndon Johnson biographies, referenced Russell’s stature in the Senate:
After [Lyndon Johnson] was elected to the Senate—before he was even sworn in—he sought out Bobby Baker, a 21-year-old cloakroom clerk, because he had heard that Baker knew “where the bodies were buried.” And what did he want to ask Baker? Not what the Senate rules were but who had the power. Bobby Baker told Johnson that there was only one man in the Senate who had the power—Richard Russell.
While Russell was a titan of the Senate, he was also a racist.
Historian Gilbert Fite, who wrote a biography of Russell, noted:
White supremacy and racial segregation were to him cardinal principles for good and workable human relationships. He had a deep emotional commitment to preserving the kind of South in which his ancestors had lived. No sacrifice was too great for him to make if it would prevent the extension of full equality to blacks.
Is it astonishing that there is still a Senate office building named after such a racist SOB?
We see the failure to grapple with, to wrestle with, to take down racism in various aspects of American life.
Even today, the healthcare system in the United States is biased against black patients. Numerous studies reveal this bias. Yet not much is done about it.
On top of that, laws that allow patients to get redress for medical negligence are so often configured to benefit doctors, huge hospitals, and profit-focused insurance companies.
But, surprisingly enough, there is reason for hope. Rev. Warnock’s election–about 50 years after Russell’s last days in the Senate–is a sign that change is possible. Certainly, change is worth fighting for.