John Doar died on November 1, 2014. He was 92 and, by all accounts, led a long and fulfilling life. When I heard the news, I made a note in my calendar so I would remember him each year. Too often, folks pass on and fade from memory. That's doubly true for people we don't know and have never met. People like John Doar.
I've referred to Doar as the Forest Gump of the Civil Rights Movement. In his capacities as First Assistant and then Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Dept. of Justice during the 1960s, he was a pivotal figure in some of the most iconic moments of the Movement—the Freedom Rides, Meredith and the University of Mississippi, the murder of Viola Liuzzo, the assassination of Medgar Evers, and the Selma campaign. A self-described Lincoln Republican from Wisconsin, he said he joined the justice department because he recognized the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the South.
During research for our program, THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, I came to admire Mr. Doar. I was particularly inspired by this account of Doar's role in the Mississippi Burning murders during the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964. It's an excellent read and delivers a sobering "boots on the ground" assessment of one of the most volatile years of the Civil Rights Movement. It summarizes the dedication of John Doar and others like him.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. said many times, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice.’ If King’s prophecy is correct . . . it is not the result of some Darwinian propensity, but rather because of the hard work of citizens of courage and principle such as John Michael Doar.”
In closing, thank you, Mr. Doar. I didn't know you, but I know my world is a little bit better because of you.