Corruption Suprised Doar

By Craig Gilbert of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Aug. 9, 2009

Here are some excerpts from a recent interview with John Doar, an important - but mostly little-known - figure in the civil rights movement and Watergate:


On what he knew about the disenfranchisement of blacks before he began to travel through the South for the Justice Department in 1960:

"The corruption was far worse than people who didn't know anything about it, who didn't live in the South, would (realize).  . . .  It was a real surprise. I didn't know any of this. I didn't see that when I was in the Air Force in 1943 in Clarksdale (Miss.).  . . .  Maybe I was just blind to seeing it."

On the cause of voting rights:

"It was clear whites were rejecting very literate blacks, who could write very legibly, but if you could breathe and you were white, you voted. Everybody who was white voted. We pounded on that. . . . You can't argue with the fact that voting is what brought about the remarkable change that we finally saw occur in the last presidential election. . . . The world has changed a lot since 1960 ."

On Martin Luther King Jr.:

"He had the power to put into words the situation and describe it in a way that was understandable to the American people. You can argue that the speech he made in Washington in 1963 and the words he wrote from the jail in Birmingham were among the marvelous writings and speeches in American history."

On Attorney General Robert Kennedy:

"First of all, he was awfully good to me. But as a public man, he was a very knowledgeable and sophisticated politician, and he knew what states you had to have to win a presidential election. At the same time, knowing that . . . President Kennedy probably needed the votes of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama in the 1964 election, he did not hesitate at all to enforce the law with respect to voting in those states. . . . When I first went to him to tell him what our strategy was in voting, bringing cases in each of the federal judicial districts in the South so we could keep every federal judge busy, his reply was, 'That's not good enough. We want cases in every county.'"

On getting involved in Watergate:

"I got a call on the phone from the dean of the Yale Law School saying, 'I've got one question to ask you. If you were offered a job being counsel for the House Judiciary Committee investigating President Nixon, would you take it?' I said yes. I got that job and, lo and behold, I had another one. The best job in Washington. Two in a lifetime."

On his own legacy:

"I'm very proud of the civil rights division. I have very, very great, great respect for Burke Marshall and Robert Kennedy and great respect for the lawyers I worked with in the civil rights division. . . .  (Some) just worked themselves to death in the seven years they were there. . . . I hope I'm getting across to you, I didn't do this alone."

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