Nov. 12, 2014 – The New York Times reported yesterday that John Doar, “a country lawyer from northern Wisconsin who led the federal government’s on-the-ground efforts to dismantle segregation in the South,” has died at the age of 92 from heart failure.
A member of the State Bar of Wisconsin since 1950 and a native of New Richmond, Doar was nationally recognized for his civil rights work with the U.S. Department of Justice from 1960 to 1968, a time of great racial discrimination and social unrest.
In 2012, Doar was one of 13 recipients of the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., presented by President Barack Obama. Other recipients included singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, poet and writer Toni Morrison, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
In presenting the award, President Obama told the story of how Doar defused a potentially deadly riot in Mississippi in 1963 and helped James Meredith become the first African-American admitted the University of Mississippi in 1962.
Doar also served as the chief prosecutor in a federal case against Klan-police conspirators in the killings of three voting rights workers in Mississippi, known as the “Mississippi Burning” trial. The events were dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning.
In a 2012 interview with the State Bar of Wisconsin, Doar said he was privileged to “work for the country in dealing with the very difficult and and longstanding problem of race.”
In 2013, Doar received the Charles L. Goldberg Distinguished Service Award from the Wisconsin Law Foundation for his lifetime record of service both to the legal profession and to the public. Doar attended the event, traveling from his home in Manhattan.
A Civil Rights Leader
Doar graduated from U.C.-Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law in 1949 before returning to his native Wisconsin, gaining admission in 1950. He practiced law for 10 years at Doar Drill & Skow in New Richmond, a prominent Wisconsin firm his father helped build.
In 1960, he joined the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and prosecuted voting rights cases, enforcing provisions of the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts. Doar’s work helped paved the way for enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“The countless individuals who were connected with this effort – primarily the black leaders, workers, and students with great courage during a dangerous time for them – deserve the credit of such an accomplishment,” Doar told the State Bar of Wisconsin in an interview in 2012. “The country broke a serious racial barrier.”
Doar left the Civil Rights Division in 1968, but not before leaving a footprint on the civil rights movement and other major events in American history.
In 1973, Doar served as special counsel 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.
He co-founded the New York City law firm of Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in Manhattan, where served as senior counsel. Doar held bar admissions in Wisconsin, California, New York, and was also a member the U.S. Supreme Court Bar.
John Doar Accepts Law Foundation’s Goldberg Award, 2013 Class of Fellows Inducted – WisBar InsideTrack, (Oct. 4, 2013)
Famed Civil Rights Activist John Doar Receives Law Foundation’s Goldberg Award – WisBar InsideTrack, (Sept. 18, 2013)
State Bar Member John Doar Among 13 Recipients of Presidential Medal of Freedom – WisBar InsideTrack, (June 6, 2012)