Civil Rights: The 1950s
No domestic issue so distressed and alarmed Dick Russell as the persistent demand for civil rights legislation and the gradual breakdown of segregation in federal agencies. Up to 1953, he and his supporters had been able to block legislation designed to extend federal protection to blacks mainly through filibuster tactics. Conservative Republicans and Russell Democrats joined together in January 1953 to defeat overwhelmingly a move to weaken the principle of unlimited debate. So far the power of the filibuster, or threat of a filibuster, had been enough to turn back civil rights advocates who looked to federal legislation to achieve their goals. Why, then, was Russell so deeply worried in 1953? The answer to this question could be found in his inability to stop the presidents from expanding black rights in the federal agencies and in his fear of unfavorable decisions by the Supreme Court. Already the Supreme Court had weakened segregation by ordering that white law and graduate schools in Texas and Oklahoma accept qualified black students.
The move toward equality and integration in military camps and other federal facilities brought cries of protest from Georgians and other southerners. A retired army colonel who lived in Columbus, Georgia, described what he considered terrible conditions at Fort Benning. He wrote that white soldiers were quartered with blacks and nothing could be done about it. Even worse, he stated, black "wenches" were living with white Wacs, using the same rest rooms, showers, and sleeping and eating facilities. Blacks were even going to the Officers' Club and were swimming in the pools with the wives and daughters of white officers. "To be perfectly frank, Dick, it is the most obnoxious thing we have had to stomach." Russell heartily agreed.
Russell received hundreds of letters in the early 1950s objecting to integration at military posts, government hospitals, and elsewhere. These expressions reflected the depth of racism that gripped the minds