LDF mourns the passing of iconic civil rights lawyer, John Doar. Mr. Doar was a fearless advocate of racial justice, who served alongside LDF in the most significant civil rights struggles of the 1960’s.
As Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice, Doar was on the front line in the battle for racial equality. Based in Washington, Doar traveled frequently to the South to engage directly with state and local officials who defied orders to integrate under federal law and the U.S. Constitution. When LDF sued to integrate the University of Mississippi, Doar was the government lawyer who escorted James Meredith to the University in 1962, only to be confronted by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. After LDF and the Justice Department obtained a court order for Meredith’s admission, Doar spent the night in Meredith’s dormitory to ensure his safety.
Doar was a fierce champion of voting rights and helped lay the groundwork for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He joined LDF in filing a suit to ensure that protestors could march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in support of voting rights. He then walked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as the key federal observer during the march. With LDF founder Thurgood Marshall, then-U.S. Solicitor General, Doar helped successfully defend the first challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and went on to prosecute voting rights cases under the Act around the South.
Mr. Doar’s skillful advocacy helped bring to justice those responsible for some of the most heinous crimes of the civil rights movement. He successfully prosecuted the killers of civil rights heroes Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. He won a conviction in the killing of Viola Liuzzo, a civil rights activist who was shot on an Alabama highway as she helped voting rights supporters. Mr. Doar was known for his courage and his calm. After Medgar Evers was murdered at his home in Jackson, Mississippi, Doar stepped into the confrontation between civil rights protestors and police saying, “My name is John Doar. I’m from the Justice Department, and anybody around here knows I stand for what is right.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, stated: “John Doar’s courageous contribution in turbulent times will be known to history as the model for civil rights lawyering. Without concern for his own safety, he bravely inserted himself into the most hostile situations, seeking justice, peace, and respect for the rule of law. John’s remarkable service on behalf of the federal government should remind us all about the leadership and sacrifice it takes to make change, especially when the outcome is uncertain and the odds are long. LDF remembers John as a friend, partner, and fellow warrior in the quest for equality. As we face the civil rights issues of today, we are inspired by his courage and unwavering commitment to justice for all.”