When James Meredith finally enrolled at the University of Mississippi in 1962, it was John Doar who escorted him to the registrar’s office. When tensions between protestors and police in Jackson, Mississippi, following the murder of Medgar Evers reached a near-boiling point, it was John Doar who physically stepped between them, placing himself in harm’s way, to diffuse the situation. And when 19 men were prosecuted in 1967 in Neshoba County, Mississippi, for the murders of three civil rights workers, it was John Doar who represented the federal government in court.
On Tuesday morning, the Justice Department welcomed former Assistant Attorney General John Doar to the Great Hall for a ceremony commemorating the history and legacy of the Civil Rights Division. Mr. Doar addressed Civil Rights Division staff, as well as staff from other Department components, about the Division’s origins in 1957 and the pivotal role it played in advancing and protecting civil rights in the 1960s, particularly its work to secure voting rights for African Americans in the South.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole introduced Mr. Doar, noting that Mr. Doar led the Division during some of the most difficult times in the nation’s struggle for civil rights. Of the Division’s role in the civil rights era, Deputy Attorney General Cole said:
The Civil Rights Division’s history is intertwined with the history of America's progress toward fulfilling the promise of its highest ideals – the ideals of freedom and justice for all. It was at the forefront of the nation’s struggle to move beyond the legacy of discrimination and ensure the basic rights to equality in housing, education, employment, and above all, the right to vote.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez organized Tuesday’s event to give current Division and Department staff an opportunity to hear from some of the veterans of the Division who laid the groundwork for so much of the civil rights progress that has been made in the last half century. Assistant Attorney General Perez said:
As time passes, as new staff members join our ranks and veterans take their leave, it is easy to forget our roots – to forget the pivotal role that the Division and its dedicated staff and attorneys played in some of the most important moments of our nation’s struggle for equal justice and civil rights. And without understanding where we came from, it’s impossible for us to understand where we still need to go.
In addition to Mr. Doar’s address, the event featured a panel discussion with: the Honorable Linda Kay Davis, Superior Court Judge of the District of Columbia and former Section Chief in the Division’s Criminal Section; James P. Turner, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Division; Loretta King, Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Division; and John L. Wodatch, Section Chief in the Division’s Disability Rights Section.