Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019
From: Bob Moses, Fellow, 2018-2019 Friends of Princeton Library
To: Princeton University – Mudd Library Staff
Re: John Doar’s Papers at Mudd Library
Cc: Wesley Hogan, Pat Sullivan, Burke Doar, Gael Doar, Robert Doar

It is little appreciated that the Civil Rights Act of 1957 established an agency of the Federal Government with a mandate that gave them permission to work with, act on and bring suits on behalf of African Americans in the federal judicial system, as well as draft and support legislation to ensure their right to vote. 

There is arguably no more comprehensive documentation of that agency, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and the work of its team of lawyers headed by Burke Marshall and his chief assistant John Doar, than Doar’s papers on file at the Mudd Research Library. 

There is always the question of what the Constitution forbids or requires, versus what it permits. Thus the establishment of such a federal agency does not tell us how it will function. This gets to the heart of the question Burke Marshall raises in “A Workable Government”, The Constitution after 200 years, 1987, Burke Marshall editor: 

“The question still is whether the Constitution integrates the ‘dispersed powers’ it disposes, not just within the federal government, but also among the nation and the states into “a workable government” for the end of the 20th century, and on into the twenty-first.” (p. 4) 

Doar’s papers present in overwhelming detail an examination of what it takes, once permission has been authorized, to “integrate” the dispersed powers the Constitution disposes to make good, a century later, on the 15th Amendment. 

That said, Doar’s papers also document the emergence, with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), of a permissible Constitutional force “among the nation”, separate from the federal government and the states. 

That force, as SNCC Mississippi field secretaries experienced it, grounded in local leaders of Mississippi NAACP chapters, mounted a voter registration insurgency whose complex and convoluted interface with federal and state governmental instruments Doar also documents, often in painstaking detail. 

What is to be understood and appreciated is that nothing in the legislation required the intensity of work on display in Doar’s papers, and by the same token nothing forbade it. 

By the same token, what is to be understood and appreciated is that SNCC field secretaries stepped into a starkly different domain of the constitutionally permissible. As Burke remarks, in another setting, they did so to the point of true Heroism, risking actions that no government, federal or state or indeed no person can require or forbid, or for that matter, have a right to expect. 

How can we develop through Doar’s papers a historical narrative of the interface in the 1960s between these two domains of the constitutionally permissible? There is of course the interface between SNCC Mississippi voter insurgent field secretaries’ permissible actions leading to their permissible incarceration by State instruments and the federal government’s permissible action to release them from state incarceration and remove their cases to the federal judiciary. And then there’s the John Hardy case. But those are just the tip of the iceberg, for Doar’s papers document the constitutionally permissible interface between African-American people “among the nation”, the state and the federal government in meticulous detail.

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