|Doar, Drill & Skow, today. |
(Thanks to Dad for the picture!)
In the 1950s, the addition on the right
had not yet been built.
|Photo Credit: Doar, Rieck, Kaley & Mack|
Or maybe I did. Sort of. I don't know why I can't remember what I did and did not know about John Doar. I may have had a vague sense that a Doar from New Richmond did something important...but it wasn't solidified in my memory.
It is now.
|The Doar family house, today.|
(Thanks to Dad for the picture!)
From a wealthy family, John Doar was born in 1921 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (likely instead of in New Richmond's small-town clinic) and went to school at St. Paul Academy. But his family lived in New Richmond, where his father had a successful law firm. After receiving an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Cal, he returned home to practice at the family firm from 1950 through 1960. The same firm that is located in the building right at the corner of Knowles and 1st. The building I drove past at least twice a day, almost every day, for the better part of my young life.
In 1960, thanks to connections from his days at Princeton, he was called to serve in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Eisenhower was President at the time...and when Kennedy was elected President in 1961, Doar stayed on, eventually becoming Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights, serving through the Johnson administration until 1967.
Doar spent the better part of the 1960s in Mississippi, bringing almost 30 voting rights cases to the courts. He didn't do this from the comfort of his office in Washington D.C. He is quoted as saying, "I was the first Justice Department lawyer who went down South to see what the facts were for myself" (Linder, 2002).
|Rep. John Lewis presents John Doar with the Choral Arts |
Society Humanitarian Award at the Kennedy Center on
January 11, 2009.
Examples to support Congressman Lewis' lofty accolades?
In 1962, John Doar and former Air Force veteran James Meredith took no fewer than 4 trips to Oxford, Mississippi before Meredith was finally, historically, allowed to enroll as the first African-American at the University of Mississippi. Doar and Meredith were roommates for a number of weeks, until much of the violence and unrest subsided.
|University of Mississippi...October, 1962|
Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane, James Meredith & John Doar
In 1963, after the funeral of assassinated Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, tensions rose in the streets of Jackson, Mississippi. A crowd of young black protesters refused to leave the streets. Riot police "drew their pistols or began swinging riot clubs" (Linder, 2002). Rioters threw bricks and bottles. Reporters at the scene "were certain that troopers and deputies were going to open fire at any moment, sparking a massacre" (Gilbert, 2009).
Doar walked out into the street and "called out to the crowd, 'You're not going to win anything with bottles and bricks [...] My name is John Doar--D-O-A-R. I'm from the Justice Department, and anybody around here knows I stand for what is right. [...] Medgar Evers wouldn't want it this way,' " (Linder, 2002). With the help of other protesters, he was able to disperse the crowd. People on hand that day, especially reporters who were in the crowd, are certain that he prevented (additional) violence and tragedy.
|Farish Street - Jackson, Mississippi - June, 1963|
|Screen-grab from this gallery of photos of John Doar's talk at |
Princeton on December 8, 2011.
In 1964, John Doar became involved in what would be known as the Mississippi Burning trial. Three CORE volunteers went missing in Neshoba County. It was later determined that they were--with the involvement of local law enforcement--murdered by members of the Klan. After over 3 years of searching for evidence, building a case, and bouncing between various courts, in October of 1967, Doar and his team became the first attorneys to successfully convict a white person of violence against a black person in the state of Mississippi.
|Slain CORE volunteers: Andrew Goodman,|
James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner.
He also successfully prosecuted the state of Alabama's first federal civil rights case.
|Viola Liuzzo, murdered by the Klan after marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery|
All this, from a man with whom I share a hometown. I can't even get my brain around it.
I don't know why, at 37 years of age, I am so taken by this fact. While I get pretty fired up about a great many things, I wouldn't say that I'm ever really flabbergasted about much of anything. But this...this is sticking with me. I feel sort of haunted (in a good way) by my proximity to this man...even though I've never met him, and probably never will. It's so amazing to feel so "close" to history.
To know that John Doar was raised in my hometown...that he came back after college to practice law with his father from 1950-1960, while my own father was growing up barely 5 miles down the road...that sometimes my dad still sees John's older brother Tom (who is 92, by the way) at the gym...it's all just quite remarkable, isn't it?
I can't quite put my finger on it, but I've become just captivated with John Doar's story. I think it's about a shared sense of place. Even if the sharing was decades and decades apart. It's about knowing that this great man--this great citizen--and I share roots in the same community.
John Doar wasn't supposed to be famous...he wasn't an athlete or a movie star. He wasn't even a well-known politician. John Doar was a lawyer. He was a man who stood in a street where bottles were being thrown and bullets were about to fly, and he stopped a riot...or maybe even a massacre. John Doar, in so many instances in his life, displayed bravery and conviction.
I think that's the part I admire the most. John Doar did what he did because "it was the right thing to do." He didn't go searching out a role in the Civil Rights movement to act out some noble pursuit. But when he found himself in a position of privilege and power, he chose to act, "We just knew viscerally that we were doing something that was awfully important," he said. "We weren't trying to be heroes. At the same time, all of us realized that when our lives were almost over, we wanted to be able to look back and say, 'we did our best: we worked as hard and as long as we could,' " (Linder, 2002).
Since I started my quest to learn more about the Civil Rights movement, I've been struck by the courage of regular people, just living their lives, who chose to be brave...who chose to confront injustice...at any cost. As I've expressed before, this dedication is absolutely inspirational...and it makes me wonder if I would have possessed (and if I do possess) what it takes to step forward and do the right thing. To what extent am I, as a human being who claims to care about equity and justice, willing to actually do what it takes to impact real change?
"Doing the right thing" turned a man from lily-white New Richmond, Wisconsin--my hometown--into one of the most celebrated members of the American Civil Rights movement. John Doar was not striving for fame...he wasn't trying to be a hero. Sometimes, doing the right thing takes you down roads you'd never imagine traveling...and changes the course of history.
(Linder, D. O., (2002), Bending Toward Justice: John Doar and the Mississippi Burning Trial. Mississippi Law Journal, 72(2).)
Also, Craig Gilbert, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, wrote a fantastic piece about John Doar back in 2009. This was yet another of the gems I happened upon as I dug around online. I am so grateful that there are people like Mr. Gilbert who took the time to share the story of John Doar's contributions to our world.
(Gilbert, C., Doar Stood Tall in Fight for Civil Rights in South, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 9, 2009.)