39 Senators Back Russell Change?

Claim Made by Activist Gregory

Posted November 26, 2003 at 2:25pm

Activist Dick Gregory says 39 Senate offices have indicated they would support renaming the Russell Senate Office Building, but his group has failed to find a lawmaker willing to sponsor legislation and nearly half the Senate is ignoring his group’s calls.

“Even though we are still without a sponsor, we are more committed than ever to achieving our goal,” Gregory said in a written statement. “After Congress reconvenes next year, we will be back, more determined than ever, to right this gross injustice.”

Gregory launched his campaign to remove Sen. Richard Russell’s name from the building nearly a year ago because of the late Georgia Democrat’s racist policies, most notably his staunch opposition to the passage of anti-lynching legislation and other civil rights measures.

Gregory said representatives from his group Change the Name have met with 45 Senate offices; 39 indicated they would support a name change, while six said they would not. He declined to name the supporters.

Of the remaining offices, five declined to meet with the group, two said they were too busy to meet, four have had scheduling conflicts and 44 offices have failed to return the group’s phone calls or arrange a meeting time.

The group is also getting encouragement from some prominent individuals in the black community.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) has promised to draft a legislative resolution to encourage his Senate colleagues to remove Russell’s name.

“This is a new day, it’s a new era, it’s a new time and so there are things that will linger, but there are things that will also change,” Davis said. “I think history is filled with acts, positions, behaviors that you don’t want to promote. You recognize them. You know what they were. It doesn’t mean you want to promote them, and I think that this is one of those instances.”

Davis said that between the economy, the situation in Iraq and other issues at the forefront of the Congressional agenda there hasn’t been a great deal of discussion yet about renaming the Russell Building, but he promised he will address the topic soon.

“Sometimes there’s an idea whose time has come, and as our country moves forward, I think there are some things we just as well not want to highlight,” he said.

In September, the National Congress of Black Women passed a resolution urging the Senate “to take appropriate action to rename the Russell Senate Office Building in conjunction with Black History Month 2004.”

Faye Williams, who sits on the group’s steering committee, expressed frustration that no one has yet stepped up to the plate in the Senate to offer a bill.

“Despite that enthusiasm, we don’t have a sponsor for the resolution for that yet,” Williams said. “We just know that the discussion has to become more prominent.”

Williams said she and other activists with Change the Name have been “hoping that magic person would appear” to sponsor a resolution, particularly because several offices have said they are sure their bosses would co-sponsor a bill once it is introduced.

Williams said she is also eager to see the Senate Rules and Administration Committee hold a hearing on legislation introduced last summer by ranking member Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). Dodd’s proposal would prohibit the naming of any portion of the Senate wing of the Capitol complex after any person until he or she has been dead for at least five years.

Furthermore, 25 years after enactment, Dodd’s resolution would strip the existing names of the Senate wing of the Capitol, the Russell, Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings, and any space under control of the Senate in the new Capitol Visitor Center.

While Williams applauds Dodd’s efforts, said she feels his legislation goes too far, saying she doesn’t see the need to remove the names of all Senate buildings “just to get at the Russell Building.”

“Mr. Hart certainly was a good person,” she said, referring to Sen. Philip Hart (D-Mich.).