Bringing civil rights movement and Nixon impeachment to life
Friday, Aug. 25, folks lucky enough to nab a seat in Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College's conference center were treated to electrifying first-hand accounts of behind the scenes legal battles and street level strategy told by a handful of lawyers, researchers and activists who had the privilege to work side by side with revered civil rights attorney and New Richmond native son John Doar during the 1960's legal battles to secure voting rights for black citizens in the Deep South.
Audience members learned these were young, inexperienced lawyers, often fresh out of law school, hand-picked by Doar and thrust into the heat of the civil rights movement pitted against white supremacy institutionalized in the form of the southern democratic party.
Being arrested was just one of the threats faced by members of Doar's small but determined legal team. Panelists learned to embrace Doar's steadfast devotion to finding the real facts of a case, unrelenting pursuit of every available legal remedy, and faith that in the end, evidence and justice would prevail.
In a second panel discussion, audience members heard again from a distinguished group of lawyers and researchers, this time hired by Doar to work side by side with him as members of his legal team when he was appointed special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during its 1974 impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Richard Nixon.
At points during the discussion, audience members felt like they were listening to their very own "deep throat," never having heard such candid stories told first hand by the people who were actually there copying Nixon's tapes and interviewing the likes of John Dean, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, E. Howard Hunt, and G. Gordon Liddy.
One of the first decisions Doar and his team had to make was whether to pursue the facts of the case buried in the 600,000 pages of undigested materials left behind by the Ervin Committee or to build a new case starting with interviews of all the players. Doar decided on a hybrid solution requiring careful digestion of the 600,000 pages in combination with select interviews of key players. Turned out, the access to all of the president's tapes played a significant role in the outcome as well. In the end, those 600,000 pages left behind by the Ervin Committee pages turned into 47, 8.5-by- 11 inch volumes housing the facts of the case.
Panelist Dorothy Landsberg summarized the overriding question that Doar determined to be the key to the case.
"The critical question the committee must decide is whether or not the president was constantly deceived by his closest associates or whether these associates were carrying out his plan, his policies and his decisions," said Landsberg.
Panelist Maureen Braden described the lasting impact working for John Doar had on so many of the young people who worked with him over the years.
"Three years ago, on the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation, we came together as a group. Almost everybody, everybody who could possibly come, came and John was there. It was about three months before he died. On that glorious afternoon in the country, people spoke, and John was there, sitting, and he got to hear so many people. They spoke about how working for him and what he instilled in all of us influenced our lives for decades, that excellence was so important, that respect was important, that facts were important, that camaraderie and friendship are important. In the years since, Barbara and I and others have said, how much it meant to us in retrospect, that John got to hear all that, and after he died, it really was an important day. These bonds that we forged last a lifetime and John was one of one," said Braden.
All in all, audience members were treated to four unforgettable hours of riveting, sometimes humbling, frequently entertaining living testimony to two of American history's most infamous chapters.
For anyone who missed this incredible opportunity, the city is working to make video of the two panel discussions available online and possibly on dvd. For more information, check the city's web site at www.newrichmondwi.gov or contact Noah Wiedenfeld at 715-246-4268 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.