John Doar '44 Receives 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom

May 30, 2012

On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to civil rights advocate and long-time public servant John Doar, a 1944 Princeton alumnus, who played a pivotal role in ending racial segregation and securing civil rights for African Americans during the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The President Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security of national interests of the United States, world peace or other significant public or private endeavors.” Doar was one of 13 2012 Medal of Freedom recipients.

Doar served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice during the 1960s. In that capacity, he was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi in 1963 following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.   Doar also served as the civil rights prosecutor in the “Mississippi Burning” trial.

In introducing Doar at the White House ceremony, President Obama said:

“It was a scorching hot day in 1963, and Mississippi was on the verge of a massacre. The funeral procession for Medgar Evers had just disbanded, and a group of marchers was throwing rocks at a line of equally defiant and heavily-armed policemen. And suddenly, a white man in shirtsleeves, hands raised, walked towards the protestors and talked them into going home peacefully. And that man was John Doar. He was the face of the Justice Department in the South. He was proof that the federal government was listening. And over the years, John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March. He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the words of John Lewis, ‘He gave [civil rights workers] a reason not to give up on those in power.’  And he did it by never giving up on them. And I think it's fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work.”

As the medal was placed around Doar’s neck, the following citation was read:

“John Doar. As African Americans strove for justice, John Doar led federal efforts to defend equality and enforce civil rights. Risking his life to confront the injustices around him, he prevented a violent riot, obtained convictions for the killings of civil rights activists, and stood by the first African American student at the University of Mississippi on his first day of class. During pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement and in the troubled times of the Watergate scandal, John Doar fought to protect the core values of liberty, equality and democracy that have made America a leader among nations.” 

On March 2, 2011, Doar reunited at the Wilson School with two other civil rights advocates, the late Wilson School alum Nicholas Katzenbach ’45 and Harrison Jay Goldin ’57, for the first time since the 1960’s for a discussion titled, “John F. Kennedy and Civil Rights”   Fifty Years Later.”   http://wws.princeton.edu/coverstories/JFK_CivilRights_2011/.

We at the Woodrow Wilson School congratulate John Doar on this prestigious award.


News coverage:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2012/05/29/2012-presidential-medal-freedom-ceremony (presentation of medal at 19:35)