World & Nation

John Doar dies, played key role in enabling Southern blacks to vote

John Doar and President Obama
John Doar receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama during a White House ceremony in May 2012.
(Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

John M. Doar, a former Justice Department lawyer who played a key role in enabling blacks in the South to vote and later directed the impeachment investigation of President Nixon, has died. He was 92.

Doar died Tuesday in New York of congestive heart failure, his son Burke Doar told the Associated Press.

Doar served in the Justice Department from 1960 to 1967, and one of his primary missions was to clear the way for blacks in the South to register to vote. It was a difficult and dangerous assignment. In one memorable incident in 1963,  Doar calmed an angry crowd in Jackson, Miss., after the funeral of Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader murdered by sniper.  “You can’t win in the streets, “ he shouted. “You can’t win with bricks and bottles.”

“I didn’t think about being in any danger,” he said at the time. “These students know me and respect me, I think, and I thought they would listen to me.”


He soon became head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and led the prosecution in a lynching case over the 1964 killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman. The all-white Mississippi jury ended up convicting seven Ku Klux Klan members of the highest possible charge under federal law.

The convictions came as a surprise, given the atmosphere in the Deep South, The Times reported, saying the defendants had been laughing and joking with the trial audience up to the last minute.

In 1973, when Doar was named to direct the Nixon impeachment investigation, The Times’ editorial board called him a good choice. “His record in public service reflects fairness, determination and thoroughness,” it said.

Doar, born Dec. 3, 1921, in Minneapolis, graduated from Princeton University and earned his law degree from the University of California’s Boalt Hall School of Law in Berkeley.


He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

A complete obituary will follow at

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