Sen. Richard Russell foughtthe civil rights laws of the 1960s with more passion and cunning than anymember of Congress. For decades, as leader of Southern senators, the GeorgiaDemocrat was intractable. In 1963, after President John F. Kennedy proposed acivil rights bill, Russell vowed to fight the bill "with every means andresource at my command." And he did, leading a 54-day filibuster in the summerof 1964
Eventually, however,the Southerners failed. President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark CivilRights Act on July 2, 1964.
And what did Russell do? Ever the patriot, he toldhis constituents, "I have no apologies to anyone for the fight I made. I onlyregret that we did not prevail." Then, Russell made an astounding plea: "Butthese statutes are on the books, and it becomes our duty as good citizens tolive with them." Louisiana's Russell Long did muchthe same. "I've been able to recognize that things move, they change and toadjust myself to a changing world," he said, "and I think all Southerners willhave to do that."
I've been thinkingrecently about the responsible way a few Southern political leaders respondedto the civil laws in the Sixties. Contrast that respect for the law with the shamefulbehavior of various Republican governors and members of Congress, including Gov.Bobby Jindal, who proudly thwartenforcement of the Affordable Care Act, legislation passed by Congress,signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court. Instead of heedingtheir inner Richard Russell, they channel another Georgia politician, Lester Maddox - an odiousdemagogue who persisted in denying the legitimacy of the civil rights laws.