Born on November 2, 1897, in Winder, Georgia, Richard Russell was the son of the chief justice of the state supreme court. After receiving a degree in law from the University of Georgia in 1918 and serving briefly in the US Naval Reserve, Russell established a law practice in his home town. In 1920, he was elected attorney of Barrow County, entering the Georgia State Assembly a year later. In 1927, Russell became speaker of the Assembly, serving until he was elected Governor in 1931. As Governor, he helped reduce state expenditures and consolidate the state university system.
Elected to the US Senate in 1932, he remained in the Senate for the rest of his life. Although he generally supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign and domestic policies, he led the Senate's Southern bloc in opposing federal intervention in racial affairs for two decades. Russell led the ultimately unsuccessful filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
An important contender for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952, he served on the Senate Armed Services Appropriations Committee from 1969 to his death on January 21, 1971, in Washington, D.C.