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Sen. Russell descendant: McCain worthy of Senate building name, but so is Russell

Richard Russell's nephew says support for racial segregation shouldn't make his uncle unworthy of honor nearly 50 years after his death.

WINDER, Ga. -- The move to remove the name of a legendary Georgia native from a Washington, D.C. office building is not sitting well with one of his descendants.

There’s bipartisan support to change the name of the Richard Russell Senate Office Building to honor Sen. John McCain, who died from brain cancer Saturday.

Richard Russell served 38 years in the U.S. Senate. Countless Georgia buildings and schools are named for him. Russell’s most prominent namesake is the historic Senate office building in Washington. McCain's Senate office was in that building.

READ | Chuck Schumer wants to rename Senate building after John McCain

But because Russell was a vocal segregationist, his historical stock has fallen -- to the consternation of his nephew, retired attorney John Russell of Winder.

"To be judged by a standard of perfection is just not fair," said Russell, who describes himself as an Obama Democrat and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1986.

He said Senator Russell’s work to keep racial segregation was the only significant flaw in what he called an otherwise honorable body of work.

"He benefited our nation, and especially the south, a great deal," Russell said.

But that’s been overlooked as some Republicans and Democrats have begun to support renaming the Russell Senate Office Building for the late John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008.

"Whether it’s renaming the Senate building or something else, I’m not sure. But I think there ought to be a significant memorial for Senator McCain and his service," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).

PHOTOS | Sen. John McCain through the years

But John Russell said Richard Russell’s support for racial segregation shouldn’t make him unworthy of honor nearly 50 years after his death.

"There's not any of our heroes who are perfect," Russell said. "We’d have to take down the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial also because they both owned slaves for heaven’s sake."

John Russell is a Vietnam veteran who says he too admires John McCain. He speculated that Richard Russell himself would approve of the honor for McCain -- if the Russell Senate building must be renamed.