Historian Kruse Revisits the Legacy of Princeton Alumnus and Civil Rights Champion John Doar

Posted
January 15, 2020
Kruse examines Doar’s files documenting the attack on the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Alabama, in May 1961. Photo illustration by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications

Given his central role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, John Doar should be a household name.

A graduate of Princeton’s Class of 1944 who served as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from 1960 to 1967, Doar accompanied James Meredith to register for classes at the University of Mississippi, and he stared down Gov. George Wallace when Wallace took his famous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to prevent integration at the University of Alabama.

Doar worked alongside activist Medgar Evers to investigate voting restrictions against blacks in Mississippi, and when Evers was shot, Doar stood in the streets of Jackson at great personal peril to calm protests that brewed in the aftermath.

Doar was in Montgomery, Alabama, when the Freedom Riders were assaulted in 1961, then he walked ahead of the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965. He helped craft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and was key to their implementation across the South.

“When I explain him to friends who aren’t historians, I always describe him as this Forrest Gump or Zelig,” said Kevin Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton, referring to fictional characters who land themselves at the center of historical events. “He’s constantly in the background, but he’s actually, unlike those characters, there on purpose and having a real effect.”

Earlier this year, Kruse was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete what will be the first full assessment of Doar’s civil rights legacy. Kruse is writing a book on Doar’s storied career titled “The Division: John Doar, the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Movement.”

Read more at News at Princeton.

Kevin Kruse will answer questions live on Twitter on 1/16/2020 at 1pm EST

#AskPrincetonU: Who Is John Doar '44?

To learn more about Kruse’s research and for a peek into the John Doar Papers, join Kruse at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16, for a Twitter video livestream Q&A direct from the archive. The event, titled “#AskPrincetonU: Who Is John Doar ’44?", can be accessed through the University’s Twitter account.

Update: The Twitter Q&A liverstream is available to watch online.

Kruse, who is the Old Dominion Research Professor at the Humanities Council for 2019-2020, also will give a free talk about John Doar as part of the Old Dominion Public Lecture Series. Titled “The Division: John Doar, the Justice Department and the Civil Rights Movement,” the talk will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 010 East Pyne.