On the front steps of the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Atlanta, one sees in bold letters that this building is a monument to Richard B. Russell, Jr. This is unfortunate, for Russell was a racist and segregationist and was openly hostile to the federal judiciary as it navigated the dangerous waters of the civil rights era. It is time that Russell’s name is removed from our federal courthouse.
For the sake of our citizens walking into a federal courthouse seeking justice, for the lawyers who work with them and for the countless public servants who work inside, we ought to pause a moment to consider what it means that Russell’s name is emblazoned across the front facade. It is a confused, hostile message. As we turn our eyes to Charleston, the South Carolina Statehouse and the etchings on the flank of Stone Mountain, we are reminded again that symbols and words matter.
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