Prominent civil rights attorney, John Doar, died of heart failure in his Manhattan home on November 12, 2014. The impact of his accomplishments will never be forgotten.
Doar played a key role in protecting the rights of black students, both in the voting booths and in academia. Doar’s work often took him to Mississippi – one of the last states to accept integration in the 1960s. When the University of Mississippi finally integrated in 1962, Doar escorted its first black student, James Meredith, onto campus.
Doar was also known for his tireless work defending civil rights activists and other disenfranchised black citizens throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1967, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, three young civil rights workers, were slain. Doar served as the prosecuting attorney in their case, successfully charging seventeen men with violating the civil rights of the three victims.
Paid Ku Klux Klan informers involved in the case were also tried and convicted, sentenced to prison terms of three to ten years apiece. Among those charged were the sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi, and the head of the Neshoba County Ku Klux Klan branch. Doar also rode with the Freedom Riders in 1961 and worked to stop voter discrimination against blacks throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. In 2012, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Thanks in part to Doar’s work, we have made huge strides towards racial equality, integrating schools, creating college classes devoted to African-American history and literature, and imposing harsher sentencing for racially-motivated hate crimes. Yet other developments indicate we collectively still have work to do. Recent incidents, such as the police shooting of an African-American man from Ferguson, Missouri, and the choking of an African-American man in New York, have shaken many people’s faith in America’s commitment to racial equality. Even in light of these events, Doar will always be remembered for his work in advancing civil rights.