On August 25, Senator John McCain died of brain cancer. The morning of August 26, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York proposed renaming a Senate building after McCain.
John McCain was born in Coco Solo, Panama on a Navy base in August of 1936. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the Navy. There he earned many awards including three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. In 1967, his plane was shot down over Vietnam and he was taken as a Prisoner of War. He stayed captured for five and a half years, enduring extensive torture due to his refusal to reveal American secrets. He was offered early release but refused, saying he would not leave until all other captured prisoners could. Upon returning, and after a lengthy recovery process, McCain chse to leave the Navy, believing he could do more good in politics.
As a senator, McCain owas an advocate for transparency, supporting the release of the CIA torture reports. He stated, “I believe the American people have a right—indeed, a responsibility—to know what was done in their name.”
The building that is proposed to be named after McCain is the Richard Russell Senate Building. Russell was a Southern Democrat. The Georgia State Senator was praised for his dedication to FDR’s New Deal. Russell also worked with several other senators to found the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
Russell is most famously known for his co-authoring of the Southern Manifesto. Here he conveyed his view that racial integration would ruin the South, as well as the rest of America, and should not be tolerated. In March of 1964, he helped start a filibuster in Congress, hoping to stop the Civil Rights Act. A filibuster is a way to stop debate over a topic. It was almost successful, stopping conversation for 60 days.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley vocally supported the name change on August 27, saying “Senator Russell fought his entire career to preserve the institution of segregation. It’s past time to remove his name from this position of honor.”
Renaming the building is a part of the nationwide campaign to rid public institutions of their racist namesakes. Just last year, University of Oregon renamed a dorm, which had previously been named after a Ku Klux Klan member.
The day after Senator Schumer proposed the name change, a large group of Republicans ignored the proposal. Several senators came up with alternative ideas for how to honor him, making it obvious they did not wish to rename the Russell building. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell shared that he would create a group to make a choice on a way to honor McCain.
Even though McConnell did not endorse the name change, he still praised McCain. “The passion that John brought to his work was unsurpassed,” says McConnell, sharing that if the late Senator was on your side, “You would thank your lucky stars.”