I heard the news recently of John Doar’s passing.
He was a U.S. Justice Department attorney during the 1960s and committed to racial equality. He protected the rights of black voters and fought to integrate Southern universities in that time and, for his fight, received a Medal of Freedom in the White House in 2012. When I saw that he died in New York two weeks ago, at the age of 92, I thought of two things.
One was a photograph.
It is 1962’s fall and James Meredith, an Air Force veteran and Kosciusko native, has been admitted to the University of Mississippi. Because he is black, it took a court battle to let him in, and there are angry protests. In this black and white photograph there Meredith is walking through the campus, a rowdy crowd seeming to fall in around him, and two white men are on his either side. Meredith’s face is determined. One of the men flanking him is Chief Marshal J.P. McShane. He looks grizzled, hard. The other is Doar, tall and young, but no less driven.
It’s an important moment in our state’s history — the most important? — and Doar appears calm and dutiful. I admire Doar there and when I saw recently, in one of his many newspaper obituaries, that he felt all he was doing that day in Oxford was ensuring “the democratic process,” I searched again for the photograph. A silent respect is the strongest.
The other was when I spoke to him on the telephone, however briefly.
It is 2005 and I am looking into a black, Mississippi man’s death from the civil rights period. I see where Doar was involved, somehow, in the investigation and on a whim I call his New York office. He eventually gets on the line. I give him the dead man’s name and he says he does not recall it. I was very young, and expected him to have a voice of steel, weighed by the gravity of historic fights. Instead, he is soft-spoken and gentle, and when we hang up I scratch my head, “Could that of been a hero?”
Without a doubt, it was.
William Browning is managing editor of The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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