An idea, some three years in the making, was realized last weekend in New Richmond when family members and colleagues from across the country participated in a series of events to immortalize the life and work of legendary civil rights attorney and New Richmond native son, John Doar.
Beginning Thursday evening, Aug. 24, community members from near and far were invited to attend a community picnic at the New Richmond Heritage Center followed by a showing of the award-winning film “Selma” in honor of John Doar’s participation in the historic 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Friday, Aug. 25, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College hosted two panels featuring first-hand accounts by distinguished colleagues of Doar's, lawyers and researchers who participated in the 1960’s legal battles to secure voting rights for black citizens and who participated in the Nixon impeachment inquiry.
Throughout the weekend guests were also invited to view an exquisite exhibit at the Civic Center featuring photographs, texts and artifacts documenting the life and civic accomplishments of Doar. Included in the exhibit was the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to Doar by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Three days of activities culminated with the christening of the John Doar History Trail Saturday morning Aug. 26, 2017.
Grey skies and a persistent drizzle did not diminish spirits as a sizeable audience sheltered beneath colorful umbrellas joined family members and distinguished guests at the celebratory unveiling of the final interpretive panel signaling the grand opening of the John Doar History Trail. The trail consists of six interpretive panels narrating significant moments and accomplishments during the life of Doar. The panels are framed on limestone blocks paired with decorative benches and lighting surrounding the Mill Pond in downtown New Richmond.
The audience listened intently as a procession of local politicians shared comments and read letters from prominent national leaders including Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Following opening remarks by New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne, State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf read a letter authored by Gov. Scott Walker for the occasion. U. S. Congressman Sean Duffy followed, reading a letter delivered by U. S. House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Educator, lifelong civil rights activist and Doar colleague, Robert “Bob” Moses delivered an elegant essay recounting pivotal moments in the birth of the 60’s civil rights movement. His words framed Doar as the conscience of his generation, wielding the truth of facts in a pitched battle against southern white supremacy to uphold voting rights for black citizens of this country.
“Does the country always inoculate itself to the collateral damage of its actions? How come the astute historian (Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) missed the August march on Washington and President Kennedy’s subsequent announcement of a pending civil rights bill as the gasoline doused on white supremacy furor? After all, the four Sunday school girls bombed on Sept. 15 in Reverend Shuttlesworth’s 16th Street Birmingham church could hardly be a cause,” Moses said.
“In his 89th year, John, at Emory University in 2010, reflected on the years 1960-1965 as revolutionary times, times when blacks and black communities took action. He introduced his audience to Ella Baker, midwife for the birth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He read her words to them, ‘In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you can change that system.’
“No system of honest self-government could safely let go the wolf of slavery, at least not a system holding slavery as collateral damage for self preservation.
“When those present in 1787 rejected Patrick Henry’s insistence on a preamble whose subject was ‘we the citizens of the several states,’ they opted for a preamble which leaves open for every generation, to invite into the constitutional conversation, all who live in this geography and take it as their home documented or not. Please help me to honor John by repeating the preamble after me in your reflective voice, thinking about what it meant for the situation of honest self-government John spent his life addressing.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
“Thanks, for John,” said Moses.
Former Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Stephen Pollak, read letters from Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton.
From Clinton’s letter: “John was a brilliant lawyer who calmly and passionately fought for the cause of social justice and equality. He was the stark voice of moral clarity in a time of great tumult. I will always be grateful to John for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to serve on the impeachment committee inquiry staff of the house judiciary committee in 1974. Working under his supervision was an intense and transformative experience in my life. I admired him for his courage, discretion and unyielding commitment to equal justice and opportunity for all.”
The dedication concluded with remarks from Doar’s son, Robert.
“On behalf of my brothers, Michael and Burke, and my sister Gael, I want to say that all of us in the Doar family are very grateful to everyone in New Richmond for this expression of appreciation to Dad. But it is also an expression of appreciation to all of the people who helped him, especially his brother, Tom. That last part is very important.
“Whether Dad was working in New Richmond or Mississippi, in Brooklyn or at the impeachment inquiry, he always relied on the people who helped him, from New Richmond’s Bud Sather and MaryLee Allen and all of the attorneys and staff at the civil rights division, to the attorneys and staff at the impeachment inquiry, including New Richmond’s Barbara Campbell and Tom Bell. Dad made it clear that everything he did was the product of a team, a team made up of smart, hardworking and patriotic people who were determined to uphold the rule of law. And always, always in his corner, was his brother, Tom, who supported him with calm and sure advice.
“From the time Dad moved to Washington in 1960, until the end of his life, Dad played an essential role in the major legal challenges of our country, civil rights and presidential abuse of power. He brought to bear on these challenges, a firm belief that all Americans should be afforded the same rights and responsibilities before the law. This applied to sharecroppers in Mississippi and President of the United States.
“Dad’s qualities are as important today as ever. We are grateful that New Richmond has chosen to celebrate these qualities and in doing so, New Richmond is promoting them in future generations.”
City staff and volunteers worked diligently to make this memorable weekend possible. Management Analyst Noah Wiedenfeld organized the panel discussions and exhibit, Public Works Director Jeremiah Wendt led completion of the actual trail, Horne embraced the original idea and pursued it to its completion and New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik insured the community and participants safety throughout the weekend.