Russell, Truman, and Civil Rights
For about six years after Harry Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934, he and Dick Russell sat not far from one another in the Senate chamber. Russell viewed his new colleague as a congenial, sincere, hardworking senator but not one of particular distinction. As he said years later, if individuals inside or outside the Senate had been asked to rate senators, Truman would not have been in the top twenty. Russell was impressed with Truman's humility when he assumed office as president, but he later observed that the heady wine of White House power soon destroyed that quality. 1
Russell sincerely wanted to get along with his old Senate colleague, if for no other reason than his extreme respect for the office of president. This was why, for example, he supported the nomination of Henry A. Wallace as secretary of commerce in 1945 when many southerners strongly opposed the appointment of the former vice president. Critics charged that Wallace was too liberal and not suitable for the position. Although Russell disagreed with many of Wallace's views, he did not accept the arguments of opponents. With such heavy responsibilities devolving on the president, the right of appointment, Russell said, "should be more jealously protected than ever before." To turn down the Wallace nomination, he continued, would "bring joy to the heart of every reactionary and every Roosevelt hater in the United States." Then he added, "I will not be a party to staging a Roman holiday in the Senate at the expense of the President of the United States." 2 When Truman called for party unity in a Jackson Day banquet address in late March 1945, some Democrats boycotted the dinner because Henry Wallace was present. Russell, however, attended the $100 a plate affair. 3 Truman had never been one of Russell's close friends in the Senate, but Russell wished the president well.
Moreover, Russell wanted to heal the growing split that was developing in the Democratic party. He hoped that the major issues dividing