Interview with John Doar


John Doar:

Well early in '61, um, we had already had several counties under investigation for voter discrimination and, uh, but we hadn't done much investigating in Mississippi. And, uh, so another lawyer in the division, Bob Owen, and I, uh, got a hold of a number of county maps in Mississippi. We knew, of course, the voter statistics, where there were large numbers of blacks living in a county, and where there were no, uh, registered voters. And we arranged to meet Medgar Evers at his house on a Saturday morning, I think it was in the spring of 1961. And we flew down to Jackson, Bob and I, and went to his house early the next morning, it was a Saturday morning, and sat around the table, kitchen table with he and Mrs. Evers, and showed him the counties that we were interested in, this was the counties principally, on that trip, in Sou—, Southern Mississippi, the Southern half of Mississippi. And we asked him who were the black, uh, persons in those counties who had attempted to register to vote, and where did they live? And he was able to give us the names of black leaders, of one or two black leaders in each county, and had, uh, pretty well on his fingertips the efforts that they had made to try to get registered to vote in those counties. So we then set out, the two of us, across Southern Mississippi and t-t-to find out where these people were, and, uh, and locate them, and we found them out in the fields plowing, or sitting on their front porches, or, or tending to their gardens, and went up and introduced ourselves, and said we were from the Justice Department, and could they tell us their experiences with respect to registering. And that's how the Justice Department program in Mississippi got started. We came back from that trip with enough information about five or six counties in southwestern—southern—Mississippi to indicate clearly that we were going to be able to build cases of voter discrimination, hard, specific, concrete factual cases, uh, in, in these counties. And, uh, as I recall it, um, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, uh, had been encouraged by some members of the Kennedy administration to concentrate on voter registration in Mississippi. They at that time were protesting sit-ins, restaurants and lunch counters, and the question was whether they should have a broad effort to break down the caste system through protests against all forms of racial discrimination, or whether they should focus on, uh, voting. And some of the students at least, uh, decided that they would focus on, uh, voting, and they picked Southwest Mississippi, which was the area around McComb and Liberty, uh, south of Natchez, east of Hattiesburg. And, Bob Moses was one of the people that was down in Mississippi, uh, what's the matter?