John Doar (right) escorts James Meredith to the University of Mississippi admissions office in 1962. Meredith was the first African-American admitted to the university. The event is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection [reproduction number, e.g., LC-U9-15739, frame 18].
Aug. 16, 2017 – He is Wisconsin's most renowned civil rights attorney. And now his hometown and family are ensuring that his accomplishments will live on.
New Richmond is opening its new John Doar History Trail with celebratory events and informational panel displays on Aug. 24-26 – and everyone is invited.
A Rare Chance to Hear Firsthand Accounts
It is a big event for the small city of New Richmond, and the work of many months of planning, said Noah Wiedenfeld, an organizer of the events and management analyst for the City of New Richmond. “We have our share of parades, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and festivals, but this will be unique," he said.
The celebration features two unique panel discussions on Friday, Aug. 25 – on the Civil Rights Era and the impeachment inquiry into President Richard Nixon – with panelists who experienced the events firsthand.
Arvid “Bud” Sather, a New Richmond native and Wisconsin lawyer who worked with Doar on several significant voting rights cases, and, with Doar, accompanied James Meredith during his first weeks at the University of Mississippi;
Bob Moses, leader of the 1964 Freedom Summer project;
Six former members of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice during the 1960s; and
Three former members of the legal team that worked on the impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Richard Nixon.
“We are very excited and incredibly honored to have the opportunity to bring together such a distinguished and amazing collection of panel participants and moderators," said Mike Darrow, New Richmond city administrator and an organizer of the event.
Registration is requested for those attending the panel discussions. Visit New Richmond’s website to register or to find out more about the panel discussions.
A Shining Example of Small-Town America
At his death at age 92 in 2014, The New York Times described John Doar as "a country lawyer from northern Wisconsin who led the federal government’s on-the-ground efforts to dismantle segregation in the South.” And while Doar's career led him to work in Washington, D.C. and in New York City, he maintained his love for his hometown throughout his life.
org sgreen wisbar Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by org sgreen wisbar email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
“Some may not know who John Doar was – perhaps in part because he was a very humble person, and didn’t seek attention or praise for his work,” said Wiedenfeld. “We hope our events will help people get to know John.”
President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Doar in 2012. “There could be no more privileged assignment than to work for the country in dealing with the very difficult and long-standing problem of race,” Doar said on receiving the medal.
Obama, when presenting the medal to Doar, recalled the events of the 1960s:
"John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March. He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. … I think it's fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work," Obama said.
Doar is a “shining example of the best of small-town America,” Wiedenfeld said. “It’s amazing to think that someone from our little city would play such a prominent role in U.S. history.”
Doar is also the 2013 recipient of the Wisconsin Law Foundation's Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award.
One of six panels along the John Doar History Trail in New Richmond. It depicts a significant moment in Doar’s career and in the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.
More Events: Photos, Movies, and a Grand Opening
The weekend events also include an exhibit of photographs and memorabilia provided by Doar's family, the grand opening of the History Trail, and video tributes from prominent state and national politicians and historians, as well as from Milwaukee attorney Lindsey Draper, representing the State Bar of Wisconsin.
The celebration also includes a community picnic and historic building tours, an outdoor showing of the movie Selma (2014), a moving showing and book discussion of Hidden Figures (2016), and on Saturday, the grand opening of the History Trail.
The History Trail
The trail winds through New Richmond, past the downtown mill pond and iconic fountain, and includes six panels providing Doar’s history. “The trail is located near the law office where he worked in New Richmond (currently Doar, Drill & Skow, S.C.) and just a few blocks from where he grew up,” Wiedenfeld said.
Doar’s brother, Tom Doar, who died in 2016, funded the trail “out of love and respect for this brother,” Wiedenfeld said. “Tom participated in the design of the trail.”
The panels depict Doar’s childhood, his efforts with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and his involvement with the inquiry into President Richard Nixon’s impeachment, and Doar receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
“It was the values he learned at a young age that he took with him where he went: hard work, integrity, commitment, respect, love for family and friends, and never forgetting his roots – this is what made John so special,” Wiedenfeld said.
John Doar: Prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Era
After graduating from the University of California-Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law in 1949, Doar was admitted to practice law in his native Wisconsin in 1950. He practiced law for 10 years at Doar, Drill & Skow in New Richmond, a prominent Wisconsin firm his father helped build.
From 1960 to 1968, Doar worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, prosecuting voting rights cases during a critical time in the Civil Rights Era. He became an aggressive civil rights advocate, participating in seminal cases and events throughout his eight years in that office.
His accomplishments include:
Helping James Meredith become the first African-American admitted to the University of Mississippi. Doar escorted Meredith to the admissions office in 1962.
Defusing a potentially deadly riot in Mississippi in 1963 following the funeral of civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was murdered by an American white supremacist.
Serving as a chief prosecutor in 1967 in a federal case against Klan-police conspirators in the killings of three voting rights workers in the famed “Mississippi Burning” trial.
Acting as special counsel in 1974 to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of President Richard Nixon for the Watergate Scandal, which eventually led to Nixon’s impeachment and resignation.
State Bar Member John Doar Among 13 Recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom, InsideTrack, June 6, 2012.
Famed Civil Rights Activist John Doar Receives Law Foundation’s Goldberg Award, InsideTrack, Sept. 18, 2013.
New Richmond Native John Doar, Civil Rights Attorney, Dies at 92, WisBar News, Nov. 12, 2014.