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John Douglas, lawyer who helped organize 1963 march, dies

WASHINGTON - John W. Douglas, a lawyer who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and was involved in the release of prisoners after the Bay of Pigs invasion, died June 2 at the Grand Oaks assisted living facility in Washington. He was 88 and had complications from a stroke.

Appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Douglas was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, which represents federal employees, including members of Congress and the Cabinet, in legal disputes.

He became the Kennedy administration's point man for the August 1963 March on Washington. He worked closely with march leaders and had a White House mandate to keep the demonstration peaceable.

"Douglas's team assisted the march planners in thinking through the day's details, down to the adequacy of toilet facilities on the Mall," Drew D. Hansen wrote in "The Dream: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation" (2003), a book on King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Douglas "shares historic credit for the orderliness and smoothness and joy of that day," Victor S. Navasky wrote in "Kennedy Justice" (1971), his history of Robert F. Kennedy's Justice Department.

Douglas had made a name for himself in Kennedy circles in late 1962, when he helped negotiate the release of prisoners held by Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The previous year, the CIA had sponsored an ill-fated attempt to overthrow Castro. More than 1,500 anti-communist Cuban exiles went ashore at the Bay of Pigs. The exiles were roundly defeated in three days, and most were taken prisoner.

Douglas was part of a four-man committee, including future attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach, that eventually negotiated a $53 million food-and-medicine swap for 1,113 prisoners.

Douglas resigned from the Justice Department in 1966 to work on the unsuccessful re-election campaign of his father, Sen. Paul Douglas (D-Ill.). In 1968, he became a strategist for the presidential campaign of Kennedy (D-N.Y.).

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