Bending Toward Justice: John Doar and the Mississippi Burning Trial

Douglas O. Linder, University of Missouri - Kansas City, School of Law


All other civil rights groups in 1964 considered Mississippi - the most impenetrable state in the union - hopeless. The decision of Bob Moses of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to shake up the Magnolia State by sending six hundred young volunteers into every corner of the state to register new black voters brimmed with danger. Moses explained to a first gathering of student volunteers, When you're not in Mississippi, it's not real. And when you're there, the rest of the world isn't real. In the early morning hours of June 20, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney boarded their blue CORE station wagon and left the rolling hills of southwestern Ohio, bound for Meridian. This article recounts the career of John Doar of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and his role in prosecuting the Mississippi Burning Trial in 1967. Looking back nearly more than thirty years later, Doar believed that the trial helped Mississippi get beyond the caste system. Up to that time, no white person in the state had ever been convicted for violence against a black. After the trial, the good people of Mississippi became more confident that they could move away from their past.