Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach confronts Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama in 1963.
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Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach confronts Gov. George Wallace at the University of Alabama in 1963.

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Former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach dies at 90

He was a key adviser to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson

Katzenbach confronted Alabama Gov. George Wallace over desegregation

He drafted and engineered passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Washington CNN —  

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday led Justice Department tributes to former presidential adviser and Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who died at 90.

Holder had a personal connection to Katzenbach, remembered for facing down Alabama Gov. George Wallace at a schoolhouse door in June 1963 to desegregate the University of Alabama.

Cameras recorded the confrontation between Katzenbach, then serving as deputy attorney general, and Wallace. The governor declared the desegregation “illegal and unwarranted” and stood in the doorway.

Katzenbach replied, “Governor, I am not interested in a show.”

The Alabama National Guard enforced the registration of two African-American students and Wallace grudgingly stepped aside.

One of the students was Vivian Malone, a sister of Sharon Malone, who later married Holder.

Katzenbach died of natural causes Tuesday at his home in Skillman, New Jersey, according to Princeton University, where Katzenbach earned a degree and served as trustee emeritus.

He was a top adviser to President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy on several key issues, including the Cuban missile crisis.

Katzenbach was attorney general for two years during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.

Katzenbach drafted and — serving as Johnson’s liaison to Congress — secured passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to Princeton.

Holder called Katzenbach “one of our nation’s great champions of civil rights and equal justice.”

Katzenbach, a New Jersey native, attended top prep schools and Ivy League colleges. He went to Germany to fight in World War II. His plane was shot down and he was captured by the Nazis and taken prisoner.

According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Katzenbach in October 1962 drafted a legal brief in support of Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba.

Holder said Katzenbach will continue to be “an inspiration for me, for my colleagues across the Department of Justice, and for the nation he was so proud to serve.”

Katzenbach was deputy attorney general from 1962 to 1964, and attorney general in 1965 and 1966. He also served as undersecretary of state from 1966 to 1969.

He is survived by his wife, Lydia; sons, John and Christopher; his daughters, Maria and Anne; and six grandchildren. A memorial service was being planned.