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Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

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The grandson of a slave, Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family to an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. When his neighbors attempted to drive him out, Sweet defended himself--resulting in the death of a white man and a murder trial for Sweet. There followed one of the most important (and shockingly unknown) cases in Civil Rights history. Also caught up in the intense cour The grandson of a slave, Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family to an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. When his neighbors attempted to drive him out, Sweet defended himself--resulting in the death of a white man and a murder trial for Sweet. There followed one of the most important (and shockingly unknown) cases in Civil Rights history. Also caught up in the intense courtroom drama were legal giant Clarence Darrow and the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


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The grandson of a slave, Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family to an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. When his neighbors attempted to drive him out, Sweet defended himself--resulting in the death of a white man and a murder trial for Sweet. There followed one of the most important (and shockingly unknown) cases in Civil Rights history. Also caught up in the intense cour The grandson of a slave, Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family to an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. When his neighbors attempted to drive him out, Sweet defended himself--resulting in the death of a white man and a murder trial for Sweet. There followed one of the most important (and shockingly unknown) cases in Civil Rights history. Also caught up in the intense courtroom drama were legal giant Clarence Darrow and the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

30 review for Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle Boyle is a History Professor at Northwestern University and his book won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2004. As the clerk of the court prepared to administer the jurors their oath, the Great Defender [Darrow] leaned over the press table on the opposite side of the room. “The case is won or lost now,” he said sotto voce. “The rest is window dressing.” This is a phenomenal work of micro-history. I was born and raised in Michigan, yet somehow I knew none of t Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle Boyle is a History Professor at Northwestern University and his book won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2004. As the clerk of the court prepared to administer the jurors their oath, the Great Defender [Darrow] leaned over the press table on the opposite side of the room. “The case is won or lost now,” he said sotto voce. “The rest is window dressing.” This is a phenomenal work of micro-history. I was born and raised in Michigan, yet somehow I knew none of this story. The setting is 1925 in Detroit and an accomplished doctor, Ossian Sweet, decides to move into a better upper middle class area of Detroit. The neighborhood happens to be all white and Sweet is African-American. Even prior to moving in, Sweet knows there will be trouble and he and his friends take some steps to defend themselves. On the second day after moving in a massive white mob, led by the KKK, surrounds the completely dark house — the Sweets and friends are inside and are scared to death. The mob’s aim is to run Sweet and his young family out of the neighborhood and if that doesn’t work then to lynch them. Windows soon break and gunfire erupts ....... Yet the story does not unfold in a manner that one expects and I won’t spoil it here. In addition to providing extensive background on all the characters, including the mayor and various civil rights leaders and providing historical context of Detroit in the 1920’s, i.e the Jazz Age, much of the book takes place at the jail and in the courtroom. And here is where Clarence Darrow enters the picture. He comes to Sweet’s defense, just a few weeks after the end of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In this case that is at the heart of the book Darrow is at his best. There are so many well placed quotes in the book that lend credence to claims that Darrow was the best courtroom lawyer of his time. 5 stars. Highly recommended. There might even be enough sunshine here to restore one’s faith in humanity, if you are a glass half-full type of person. The writing, research, and author’s commitment to tell a riveting story were exemplary. Despite the fact that the title may sound like a sweeping saga on social justice, this book is really a historical drama and completely digestible.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kirby

    A long, slow, excellent read. Each dense level---the personal story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, the organizational maturation of the early civil rights movement, the rugged, violent, ethnic-based politics of Detroit in the 1920s, the Sweet trial itself---delivers the same contemporary truth in different ways: racism will not go quietly, if ever, because too many institutions and individuals depend on it for both self-esteem and profit. Boyle uses the 1925 murder trial of Sweet, his wife, and a dozen ot A long, slow, excellent read. Each dense level---the personal story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, the organizational maturation of the early civil rights movement, the rugged, violent, ethnic-based politics of Detroit in the 1920s, the Sweet trial itself---delivers the same contemporary truth in different ways: racism will not go quietly, if ever, because too many institutions and individuals depend on it for both self-esteem and profit. Boyle uses the 1925 murder trial of Sweet, his wife, and a dozen other friends who helped defend the Sweet home against mob violence in a white working-class neighborhood as a starting point for a much broader examination of Detroit's political and racial tensions. My frustration (not with the book, but with the social reality of then and now) is how racism not only perverts critical questions of the common good, but over time erodes any interest in even asking them. The Great Migration swept tens of thousands (5,700 Black folks in Detroit in 1910; 81,000 by 1925) into the Black Bottom. High demand and a limited number of places where new Black arrivals could live allowed landlords to leave properties unrepaired yet filled well beyond capacity. Landlords shamelessly rented out the tops of pool tables and outhouses as the city refused to install sewer lines or deliver services, causing waves of public health crises. Instead of thinking through adequate planning in a city that was bursting at the seams everywhere due to rapid industrialization, the question became why 'they' (Southern migrants) chose to live in such squalid areas and ended with blaming poor neighborhood conditions on their mere arrival. An examination of present-day Detroit bears the mark of a decades-old unwillingness to address persistent systemic issues. Homebuying efforts demonstrated the same concept. In the mid-1920s, housing appraisers in Detroit made it official practice to downgrade the value of any neighborhood that had a single Black resident. This happened at the same time that the city's real estate developers raised home prices and prevented families from building their own homes on purchased plots, necessitating mortgages with exorbitant interest rates for working-class whites. A black family moving into a white neighborhood was not only a blow to white pride, but also had a measurable and often disastrous economic effect. The combination was lethal and by the time this and other related practices (restrictive covenants, steering) were made illegal, the psychological damage was done. The question of whether to regulate real estate developers in order to prevent financial exploitation was subsumed by the effort to keep neighborhoods as white as possible. Broader economic issues go unexamined; segregation is accepted as preference rather than design. I appreciated the meticulous research throughout, especially with respect to the painstaking strategy behind the establishment and funding of LDF under Walter White, James Weldon Johnson, and others via the high profile of the Sweet trial; Gladys Sweet's gumption; the homage to HBCUs and Black social organizations in creating a safety net where none existed. Recently though, I end up casting a side-eye to the genre of narrative nonfiction (odd considering I'm still working on the Glass compilation). Seems like Boyle's effort could be categorized in the same manner that he casts the trial itself--an attempt to shoehorn an uneven, sprawling event into a symbol. It works well here, but I'm generally skeptical. It all ends up feeling too sitcom-neat, but I'm still working through what type of rendering would seem more authentic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Everybody knows about the famous Brown versus Board of Education case (1954) where the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. This book covers the earlier Sweet Trials of 1925 and 1926. Here the focus is instead housing/residential segregation. Ossian Sweet (1895 – 1960) was a black American physician who bought a home in a white residential area in Detroit, Michigan. Through armed self-defense he attempted to p Everybody knows about the famous Brown versus Board of Education case (1954) where the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. This book covers the earlier Sweet Trials of 1925 and 1926. Here the focus is instead housing/residential segregation. Ossian Sweet (1895 – 1960) was a black American physician who bought a home in a white residential area in Detroit, Michigan. Through armed self-defense he attempted to protect his newly purchased home against a mob trying to force him out. (view spoiler)[Ossian Sweet, as well as his wife, brother, cousin and friends who all tried to help him defend his property, were acquitted of murder charges by an all-white jury. (hide spoiler)] There were two trials. James Weldon Johnson, general secretary of the NAACP, was able to interest the famed defense lawyer Clarence Darrow to take charge of the defense. Darrow's closing statement lasted over seven hours. It is seen as a landmark in the Civil Rights movement and was included in the book Speeches That Changed the World. The presiding judge was Justice Frank Murphy. He later became the Governor of Michigan and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The book covers the trials in detail. Every aspect of them - the picking of the juries, the prosecutor, the witnesses, i.e. the history of all involved. The book is thorough, well researched and unbiased. You are given not half but all details of relevance. Ossian's youth, marriage and struggles to become a doctor are meticulously detailed; to understand his actions you need to understand his personality. I do not think any of the details provided were extraneous; however it is important to know before you pick the book up that the book is detailed and is not for those who want merely a quick summary. The individuals’ lives after the trial are summarized. What happened later was very interesting. The audiobook is narrated by Lizan Mitchell. She gives an absolutely perfect presentation. It can be hard to listen to trials details and court proceedings in an audiobook. There are so many individuals to follow. The book gives just enough repetition, allowing the listener to easily keep track of all involved. There are memorable quotes from the proceedings; they are moving told. This book is excellently executed. I cannot give it anything but four stars, but if you want merely a quick summary, then I would not recommend it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that this is not a novel, but a history, and that as such, even though it moves quickly, there are times when the author doesn't go from point A to point B as in a novel but stops to present factors that led up to this period in time. The case in question begins in 1925 in Detroit, when Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife move into a house that is outside the bou A fine history of a case I knew absolutely nothing about, but now am off in search of more info. I recommend it very highly, but keep in mind that this is not a novel, but a history, and that as such, even though it moves quickly, there are times when the author doesn't go from point A to point B as in a novel but stops to present factors that led up to this period in time. The case in question begins in 1925 in Detroit, when Dr. Ossian Sweet and his wife move into a house that is outside the boundaries of the "colored" area (I'm just using the terminology in the book here which was appropriate to the time period). Ossian, his wife Gladys, Ossian's brother Henry & some friends were over at the house all preparing to eat the first meal in their new house when a neighborhood mob moved in front of the house & began pelting the house with stones etc. They prepared themselves for the worst, but nothing more happened. On the second night, Ossian was ready. He had gathered the same people & a few more (at that time 11 total in the house), and when the mob gathered again and the rocks started flying and actually broke windows in the house, Henry & whoever was upstairs with him started firing into the crowd, killing one man & wounding another. The police took everyone in the house in custody, & eventually all 11 were charged with murder or conspiracy to commit murder. The state contended that there was no mob at all and that Ossian's brother & friends had fired into the crowd unprovoked, killing a man. Eventually the group was put into prison, awaiting trial, and were ultimately defended by Clarence Darrow. That's the central case; what this book does is to examine the factors behind the allegations, and to examine the motivation of Ossian's neighbors as they worked themselves into mob frenzy. It also looks at racial attitudes on both sides of the coin prevalent at the time, politics both locally in Detroit and nationally, the use of this case by the NAACP, among other issues. In telling Ossian's story, the author also goes into Ossian's family history, as well as that of his wife Gladys from slavery onward, and the history of racial attitudes both North and South. For example, Boyle goes into great detail about the southern migration of blacks to the north and their attempts to escape Jim Crow only to find themselves victims of the same types of prejudices. Specifically discussing Detroit, the author goes into great detail explaining that the police department was filled with KKK members; he explains the economics behind why, beyond the simple reason of prejudice, white people did not want blacks in their neighborhoods and what happened to those African-Americans who moved into those neighborhoods; he also goes into the politics involved in organizing a defense for the 11 accused & battles fought based on this case against segregation in all aspects of life. It is really a captivating story, backed up by personal interviews & other primary sources as well as other references. I definitely think if you are interested in the topics of segregation, civil rights, racial attitudes or the workings of the NAACP, you will not want to miss this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and for good reason. I consider this to be the best example of historical storytelling I've read. The first part of the book is a riveting, meticulously researched account of an incident between an angry white mob and black physician Ossian Sweet, who recently purchased a home in a white neighborhood in 1920's Detroit. The second part of the book details the ensuing trial, led by legendary trial attorney (and my idol) Clarence Darrow. The eve This book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and for good reason. I consider this to be the best example of historical storytelling I've read. The first part of the book is a riveting, meticulously researched account of an incident between an angry white mob and black physician Ossian Sweet, who recently purchased a home in a white neighborhood in 1920's Detroit. The second part of the book details the ensuing trial, led by legendary trial attorney (and my idol) Clarence Darrow. The events this book recounts are not well known considering their importance in galvanizing the very beginnings of black civil rights leadership in America.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Sulzby

    Such an important book for understanding complex and often hidden parts of race relations in the USA. Boyle starts with the Civil War and the immediate aftermath when our national parties were the opposite of their stances today. The Republicans were for Civil Rights and "reconstructing" the renegade South. The Democrats were for conserving (isn't that a cute play on the word conservative) the idealized myth of life on the plantations with slaves and masters in loving relationships, economic sec Such an important book for understanding complex and often hidden parts of race relations in the USA. Boyle starts with the Civil War and the immediate aftermath when our national parties were the opposite of their stances today. The Republicans were for Civil Rights and "reconstructing" the renegade South. The Democrats were for conserving (isn't that a cute play on the word conservative) the idealized myth of life on the plantations with slaves and masters in loving relationships, economic security or wealth, everything and everything in its place, with God at the helm. Boyle's is such an expansion on what I had studied, read, learned before. The switch between Republican and Democrats has always amazed me, but Boyle documents many more intricate aspects (most of which I won't go into here). This is a book that I have been reading for the past 3 or so weeks, not because of lack of interest. This is one of those non-fiction books that I have to stop and digest, talk to my friends about, Facebook about, but mostly cogitate on. It is a story of Jim Crow as it existed in the South and then the North. (Nothing about Joe Turner, as in August Wilson's play: Joe Turner's been here and gone, about slave bounty hunters and enforcers.) It is a story of property ownership, amount of land/house available to blacks or whites, elite or working people. I love the way he weaves in the history of the NAACP, with one of my heroes, James Weldon Johnson. The Talented Tenth in Detroit were a group of elite black activists that I had never heard of. Back with the NAACP in New York, Boyle began to sketch in the history of the Urban League and its missions in relation to the NAACP. He includes the strains and rivalry between James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. DuBois. And much more, all played out around the story of the life of Ossian Sweet, a black boy whose poor but aspiring family sent him "up North" to get a real education. I learned about the reputation of different "Negro colleges," when Ossian's choice of school included remedial education at the high school level and college life in a poor, struggling midwest Negro college, but with mentors who opened his mind and aspirations to medical school at prestigious Howard University. (I may add more here later.) Skip to the chase: Ossian Sweet, M.D., well educated and with some connections to the Talented Tenth, to whom to know at the NAACP, and eventually to Clarence Darrow, and his wife move into a small but nice cottage in a white neighborhood close to Sweet's practice. The second night after moving in the white "gangs" move in, override the police guards, and start yelling and throwing rocks at the Sweet house. Inside the house, Sweet and 9 other men were prepared to defend the home, with guns and ammunition. Some one or ones shoot at the crowd, probably in panic, killing one white man and badly wounding another. The Ossian Sweet Trial is important in American legal and socioeconomic history, as I am learning. End of reading: This book held me till then end yet I did not read much at a time or race to finish it. The ending just now came upon me suddenly. The book has a good chunk of reference notes, bibliography, subject index, etc. Without going into the trial and its aftermath, I will conclude that the author described inner-workings of the organizations, the proponents and antagonists, and Ossian and Gladys Sweet's conflicts with the skill of storytelling he carried throughout. But the ending is, like our nation's trip through de-segregation and Civil Rights, bittersweet, one step forward, two back, two to three sideways, then maybe three forward and on and on. In 2011 we have been seeing and hearing the horrible racists comments, actions, and even laws that we thought no one would utter in public any more. But boldly are they stated. Now we see the re-emergence of the poll tax and educational testing for voting. Ah, woe.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Israel

    Boyle may be an academic historian but he writes like a novelist. It takes a great story--African Americans asserting their rights and defending them with guns--and puts it into historical context. There are no saintly heroes in this book but real sometimes conflicted people. Basically it's about a young African American physician in Detroit in the early 1920s who wants to move out of his all-black overcrowded neighborhood and buys a house in a white neighborhood. After numerous threats and while Boyle may be an academic historian but he writes like a novelist. It takes a great story--African Americans asserting their rights and defending them with guns--and puts it into historical context. There are no saintly heroes in this book but real sometimes conflicted people. Basically it's about a young African American physician in Detroit in the early 1920s who wants to move out of his all-black overcrowded neighborhood and buys a house in a white neighborhood. After numerous threats and while holed up in his house surrounded by a menacing rock-throwing crowd, he organizes a group of friends to defend his home. One of his friends fires into the crowd and kills a teenager. He and his friends are tried for murder, and the NAACP mobilizes support for him nationally while Clarence Darrow defends him in court. The book debunks several widespread myths: that the civil rights movement started with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and that it was a nonviolent movement before Robert Williams or Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael. Read it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    BookishStitcher

    It took me almost two months to finish this book. The subject was heartbreaking and interesting, but the writing style just never pulled me in. I learned so many new things while reading this. The one that I most hope to explore some more is about the lawyer Clarence Darrow. I hadn't heard of him before partly because it was so much before my time and mainly because I was never a law student. I imagine that he is often held up as an example to students studying law. I would love to read more abo It took me almost two months to finish this book. The subject was heartbreaking and interesting, but the writing style just never pulled me in. I learned so many new things while reading this. The one that I most hope to explore some more is about the lawyer Clarence Darrow. I hadn't heard of him before partly because it was so much before my time and mainly because I was never a law student. I imagine that he is often held up as an example to students studying law. I would love to read more about him. The very end of this book (meaning exactly the last sentence) was so sad. To have accomplished so much, but have ended his life with nothing left but hopelessness.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Yasmin

    Although there has been the criticism that this is a long laborious book that is exactly how the events in real life played out. Kevin Boyle does a fantastic job with his research and recreating history for the reader. Even though the final sentence of the denouement is utterly tragic it is a marvellous book. The background of the people primarily involved is laid bare and all of it well worth a read. No matter if for some it seems sluggish you won't be disappointed you started with this book an Although there has been the criticism that this is a long laborious book that is exactly how the events in real life played out. Kevin Boyle does a fantastic job with his research and recreating history for the reader. Even though the final sentence of the denouement is utterly tragic it is a marvellous book. The background of the people primarily involved is laid bare and all of it well worth a read. No matter if for some it seems sluggish you won't be disappointed you started with this book and kept with it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    An extremely well-written book about the Ossian Sweet case, about which I knew nothing. Dr Sweet, an African-American, moved into a home in a white neighborhood of Detroit in 1925. A mob gathered to force him out. He and some friends fired into the mob, in self-defense, and killed a white man. They were arrested and tried for murder. Eventually, through the efforts of the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson, Clarence Darrow, and others, they were acquitted. Author Kevin Boyle told this story in a fascin An extremely well-written book about the Ossian Sweet case, about which I knew nothing. Dr Sweet, an African-American, moved into a home in a white neighborhood of Detroit in 1925. A mob gathered to force him out. He and some friends fired into the mob, in self-defense, and killed a white man. They were arrested and tried for murder. Eventually, through the efforts of the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson, Clarence Darrow, and others, they were acquitted. Author Kevin Boyle told this story in a fascinating way that kept me eagerly turning pages to see how it would all turn out. I found the book especially interesting because of its attention to the history and growth of Detroit at this time. My grandfather was a first generation American of Slovak descent, living in Detroit at the time of the Sweet Case. He had come to the rapidly growing Detroit a few years before the Great Migration that brought so many blacks north. The book made me wonder what prejudices he faced himself, and what prejudices he might have had. He was an autoworker who never spoke of his Slovak roots and always "passed" as an American. He and my grandmother were longtime subscribers to the Detroit Free Press, described here as the newspaper of the working class, and very racist. Arc of Justice would have fascinated me in any case, but the family history connection made it more personally relevant. It would be nice to think that the acquittal of Dr. Sweet and his friends ushered in a new era of justice, but the later history of Detroit and our current racist administration certainly don't bear that out. We still have a long way to go....

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    This book is a non-fictional telling of the history of race relations in Detroit, which are only marginally better now than in the 1920's. Parts of it are as chilling as any piece of horror fiction, doubling the effect by knowing the truth of it. This is the story of what a devastating tool fear is and how it is so expertly used to control others. I think I will now always look at people in authority and ask myself "What method does he/she use to exert control?" If it is that he tries to make pe This book is a non-fictional telling of the history of race relations in Detroit, which are only marginally better now than in the 1920's. Parts of it are as chilling as any piece of horror fiction, doubling the effect by knowing the truth of it. This is the story of what a devastating tool fear is and how it is so expertly used to control others. I think I will now always look at people in authority and ask myself "What method does he/she use to exert control?" If it is that he tries to make people afraid (of non-Christians, of people with a darker/lighter shade of skin, of change, of anything different, of those that have something the leadership wants, etc.), then it is time to look for new leadership. Fear must certainly be the worst enemy society faces. Instead of working to trample the fears in other countries, what would happen if our leadership spent all that money to teach people how to accept each other and celebrate the differences? (Yes, I'm still a hippie at heart...)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    another book group choice. i feel naive that i didn't know that racial tensions in the city of Detroit went back to the 20s. this true tale of racial intolerance and housing segregation deepened my understanding of the issues which continue to face the D. The Ossian Sweet House still stands on the east side near where my grandmother's family used to reside. I drove by. When I finished the book and went to reread the quote in the front about the long arc of justice, I found the copy I was reading another book group choice. i feel naive that i didn't know that racial tensions in the city of Detroit went back to the 20s. this true tale of racial intolerance and housing segregation deepened my understanding of the issues which continue to face the D. The Ossian Sweet House still stands on the east side near where my grandmother's family used to reside. I drove by. When I finished the book and went to reread the quote in the front about the long arc of justice, I found the copy I was reading was a first edition signed by the author with an inscription to my local library branch as "his library". That was cool.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I was assigned this novel in my African-American History course at Augusta University and it quickly became one of those books that demanded a thorough rereading. This incredibly detailed recounting of a moment in history that is just shy of a 100 year anniversary must be read by those who want to learn from history...and not be doomed to repeat it. You are a black man in Detroit, 1925. You have just bought a house for your young family and on the second night five hundred angry people gather ou I was assigned this novel in my African-American History course at Augusta University and it quickly became one of those books that demanded a thorough rereading. This incredibly detailed recounting of a moment in history that is just shy of a 100 year anniversary must be read by those who want to learn from history...and not be doomed to repeat it. You are a black man in Detroit, 1925. You have just bought a house for your young family and on the second night five hundred angry people gather outside and want only one thing: for you to leave. When the first stones are thrown, what happens next changes history. Names you should always remember: Ossian Sweet, Walter White, James Weldon Johnson...and Clarence Darrow?? Read this book today!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gary Street

    Arc of Justice is a non-fiction account of race relations in the 1920's. Times have changed, but many of the underlying factors remain. It follows a black man who was born in the south. Even though the family was desperately poor, he managed to attend college, and then med school. From med school he moved to Detroit where he attempted to purchase a home in a white neighborhood, which resulted in a riot, with one person killed. The defense in the resulting trial was led by Clarence Darrow. Even th Arc of Justice is a non-fiction account of race relations in the 1920's. Times have changed, but many of the underlying factors remain. It follows a black man who was born in the south. Even though the family was desperately poor, he managed to attend college, and then med school. From med school he moved to Detroit where he attempted to purchase a home in a white neighborhood, which resulted in a riot, with one person killed. The defense in the resulting trial was led by Clarence Darrow. Even though the events took place nearly 100 years ago, the book provides an insight that is rare, but informative yet today.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This past month I read Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle. In 1925 an African American doctor bought a house in an all-white Detroit neighborhood. At that time, the only housing available to people of color was in Black Bottom, a neighborhood built to house 5,000 people but by then holding 60,000. Dr. Ossian Sweet had seen a lynching as a boy, and knew about race riots that had erupted in towns across the US over racial integration of white neighborhoods. So Dr Sweet invited friends to his home for p This past month I read Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle. In 1925 an African American doctor bought a house in an all-white Detroit neighborhood. At that time, the only housing available to people of color was in Black Bottom, a neighborhood built to house 5,000 people but by then holding 60,000. Dr. Ossian Sweet had seen a lynching as a boy, and knew about race riots that had erupted in towns across the US over racial integration of white neighborhoods. So Dr Sweet invited friends to his home for protection, and had purchased guns. As a 'new Negro,' he intended to fight for his rights and protect his family if attacked. When the KKK rallied the white neighborhood to protest, and the rocks started to hit the roof and break windows, one of the people in Sweet's house shot a gun. A bullet hit a young man and killed him. All 16 people in Sweet's house that night were arrested. The trial culminated with Clarence Darrow working for the defendants. When the jury could not agree, the defendants were tried separately. Dr Sweet's younger brother was first on trial, and was acquired and all suspects were released. Horribly, the time in jail exposed Dr. Sweet's wife to tuberculosis, and both her and their baby died of TB. Dr Sweet ended his own life. The story is important, but the background information to explain the significance of the events in their historical context makes the events come alive. We learn what it meant to the white homeowners to have their house value drop. We also understand why Dr Sweet planned for his self-protection when he bought his wife's dream house. The NAACP leader, James Weldon Johnson, saw this case as pivotal and raised money for the defendants. At the same time, I was reading a biography of Ella Baker. I had first read about Ella in "Freedom's Daughters," a wonderful book about the women behind the Civil Rights movement. That book had inspired my quilt, I Will Lift My Voice. Ella attended college then moved to Harlem during its Renaissance. By 1930 she was involved in activist work, with a specialty in enabling people to start grass roots movements. Ella was a whirlwind, traveling the country and connecting with people of all rank and file. I was quite overwhelmed by the details of her work history and all she accomplished. Detroit remains one of the most segregated cities in America. It is amazing to think about. I grew up in the northern suburbs of Detroit. When I return, I see a very integrated community when visiting Meijer. But our city still is all white. I remember the 1968 race riots, and waiting for Dad to arrive home safely from the Highland Park factory where he worked. The rioting was reported to have high 8 Mile Road. We lived at 12 Mile. There was only fear in my world, no other repercussions. Neighbors voiced racial slurs. My mother stood up against racism. She was full of compassion and understood that the violence sprung from deep inequalities. She had made a friend while in treatment at Henry Ford Hospital, and had visited her in her home. The friend was black and lived in Detroit. Mom saw first hand the difference between her reality and our working class world in the 'burbs. Our 1920 home was modest, our clothing from K-Mart, but we were literally living in a different world. I grew up thinking I was not prejudiced; I did not hate people of different color, religion or background. My ancestors did not own slaves (later proven by genealogical research). I was not responsible, and should not be classified with those 'other whites' who were bigots. But over time, I learned to understand that a moral man in an immoral society, who does not protest or work to change the status quo, is a participant and supporter of the immorality. I learned that prejudice is inescapable. And that it becomes a daily choice to do the right thing. It is Lent, and yesterday in church we sang the hymn "Ah, Holy Jesus." Singing the words, we admit that we were participants in the death of Jesus. We all share the shame. In the end, that is how I have come to think about America's history of racism, prejudice, and racial violence. I cannot claim to be separate from that legacy. I must share the blame.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stefania Dzhanamova

    The US cities shined in 1925. New York and Chicago, with more than two million residents each, were among the largest cities in the Western world, while Detroit, home to the new auto industry, was the States’ great boomtown. New York, Detroit, and Chicago bursted with cash in the mid-1920s. WWI had made the USA the world’s banker. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and other American investment houses managed staggering sums and poured international wealth into the swelling stock market. Manufacturers p The US cities shined in 1925. New York and Chicago, with more than two million residents each, were among the largest cities in the Western world, while Detroit, home to the new auto industry, was the States’ great boomtown. New York, Detroit, and Chicago bursted with cash in the mid-1920s. WWI had made the USA the world’s banker. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and other American investment houses managed staggering sums and poured international wealth into the swelling stock market. Manufacturers propelled their companies forward and forward. By the summer 1925, the economy was awash with wonderful new products poured by the sprawling factories. The cities’ rise wasn’t only financial. It was also cultural. The massive 19th century immigration had made the big urban centers outstandingly polyglot places. On the threshold of the new century, the foreign-born far outnumbered the native-born in almost every large city. The war slowed the European migration, but ushered the Great Migration of Afro-Americans form the South. Dr. Ossian Sweet, the grandson of a slave, leaves his parents’ Southern farm and moves to the Detroit, where he accumulates a fortune curing the residents of Black Bottom, Detroit’s immigrant district. In 1925, Sweet moves his family to an all-white neighborhood. Ossian Sweet’s defending against his neighbors, who were trying to drive him out of the house, results in the death of a white man and one of the most significant cases in Civil Rights history. By the early 1920s, a tiny number of sophisticates considered immigrant working-class life as an antidote to the corrupting constraint of Victorian bourgeoise culture. They strived to grab a share of the black life that the southern migration was bringing into the cities. That craze was, of course, mixed with condescension. Whites thought black life exciting because it was “primitive” and vital with its Jazz, spirituals, and blues. However, all that frenzy coexisted with all-pervading racism. Real estate agents made it a practice to devalue property in neighborhood with even a single black resident. An Afro-American family moving into a white neighborhood was deemed not only offensive, but also economically destructive. This was exactly the combination needed for violence to erupt. The Arc of Justice is a brilliant read, and I was hooked from the first page. Kevin Boyle creates a compelling narrative of the trial and the intense courtroom drama the doctor was involved in. The author effectively uses Sweet’s case as a base for his brilliantly done study of the mid-1920s’ political and racial tension in Detroit. Five stars. I just cannot give it fewer.

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Dudley

    This was an interesting read that I picked up and put down a few times, before finally soldiering through to the end. The story is remarkable - 1920's urban racial prejudice on trial, featuring some of the most important names at that time in civil rights and in law - and the research is incredibly meticulous, one gets the sense that no stone was left unturned by the author. But at times that dense relaying of the research drags from being a rich, contextual experience to an inundation of trial This was an interesting read that I picked up and put down a few times, before finally soldiering through to the end. The story is remarkable - 1920's urban racial prejudice on trial, featuring some of the most important names at that time in civil rights and in law - and the research is incredibly meticulous, one gets the sense that no stone was left unturned by the author. But at times that dense relaying of the research drags from being a rich, contextual experience to an inundation of trial procedures, NAACP politics and courtroom speeches - the wonderful chance to hear Clarence Darrow and to follow his oration through to climax excepted. It is disheartening to think that 100 years later prejudice in urban housing and especially in the carriage of justice still remain significant issues. Darrow's principled defense of the Sweet family, and of people of color more broadly is sorely needed in today's society. As is the space Judge Frank Murphy gave to let the case play itself out and to allow the jury to deliberate with integrity. We have seen in Chicago too many occasions where, like the police officers in Detroit in 1925, power works to coerce witnesses to lie, to turn Judges into biased obstructionists, and to put small outcomes ahead of the larger question of is our society fair, just and equal. I commend the men and women who stood up for it 1925 when the threat of violent retaliation was prescient and real, and those who do so today at the cost of their own peaceful anonymity. And I abhor cowardly police officers who abuse their power and then hide behind a code-of-silence, covering up for each other's wrongdoings, they should be in jail. Finally, as long as I am on my soapbox, Judges who think the bench is their throne and who disregard law and evidence to sanctimoniously insert their biased opinion should be voted out of their seats and outcast from the legal community of this city (I'm talking to you, Domenica Stephenson. Good riddance).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    1925 Detroit. An African American doctor purchases a home in a white neighborhood just as the Ku Klux Klan is beginning a campaign to drive Blacks back into a tightly enclosed ghetto. A mob of several hundred forms. Rocks and bricks are thrown. Fearful for their lives, the Blacks shoot first above the crowd, then into it. One man is killed. The rest of the book consists of the court battle as all eleven people in the home are charged with murder, mini biographies of the people involved - the home 1925 Detroit. An African American doctor purchases a home in a white neighborhood just as the Ku Klux Klan is beginning a campaign to drive Blacks back into a tightly enclosed ghetto. A mob of several hundred forms. Rocks and bricks are thrown. Fearful for their lives, the Blacks shoot first above the crowd, then into it. One man is killed. The rest of the book consists of the court battle as all eleven people in the home are charged with murder, mini biographies of the people involved - the homeowners, the NAACP leaders who come to their aid in court, and "The Great Defender, Clarence Darrow, who takes up the case - and of course the trial itself. The book is well researched by historian Kevin Boyle, and well written for a general audience, if sometime a bit melodramatic. It is an important story that illustrated that segregation and violence toward Blacks was not just a Southern thing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joe Hudon

    This book was published in 2004 about an incident arising from segregation in 1925 Detroit. It is exceptional in context the author brought to the story. There is a great deal of history to be had, seamlessly told. As I completed the epilogue, however, I noted Kevin Boyle's assertion that the trajectory of racial tolerance continued to rise for the better in the decades that followed, although he did qualify the statement by acknowledging that there was more to accomplish. But who knew in 2004 whe This book was published in 2004 about an incident arising from segregation in 1925 Detroit. It is exceptional in context the author brought to the story. There is a great deal of history to be had, seamlessly told. As I completed the epilogue, however, I noted Kevin Boyle's assertion that the trajectory of racial tolerance continued to rise for the better in the decades that followed, although he did qualify the statement by acknowledging that there was more to accomplish. But who knew in 2004 where we'd be in August 2019, having taken several steps backward in time. Considering the current political environment, I highly recommend this book. The story of Ossian Sweet is powerful, but more importantly, while it tells us about who we were in 1925, it can illuminate the risks of repeating history. Boyle wrote in the epilogue, paraphrasing Clarence Darrow, that "(Bigotry) became disreputable, a sign of crudeness, stupidity, and moral failing, a product of the prejudice that made men terribly cruel." And, unfortunately, still does.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert Intriago

    A very good historical book. It traces the migration of African Americans from the south to the industrial north after the end of WWI. They believed that they were escaping “jim crow” laws in the south for a better life and jobs in the north. Sadly they encountered more segregation and violence in cities like Detroit and Chicago. The author does a very good job of detailing particular events in the city of Detroit with particular attention the attempts attempts by African Americans to move into A very good historical book. It traces the migration of African Americans from the south to the industrial north after the end of WWI. They believed that they were escaping “jim crow” laws in the south for a better life and jobs in the north. Sadly they encountered more segregation and violence in cities like Detroit and Chicago. The author does a very good job of detailing particular events in the city of Detroit with particular attention the attempts attempts by African Americans to move into white neighborhoods. The narrative tends to be repetitive in parts but overall it is quite informative.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Kurtz

    I had never heard of this famous court case and am very glad I read this book. I am realizing more and more how much history is not taught in schools and how what was left out influenced my perceptions of this country. This book serves as a great reminder that although things have improved greatly in regards for equal rights, we still have a long way to go because laws matter only as much as the human heart endorses them.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    In the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, historian Kevin Boyle found a story that encapsulates so much of the history of US race relations and traverses the major fault lines of early 20th century America. Boyle skillfully blends broader historical context, illuminating biographical details, and a dramatic court case that reads, at times, like a thrilling courtroom drama. I was struck by how many important figures had some some connection to this case (James Weldon Johnson, WEB Du Bois, Clarence Darrow In the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, historian Kevin Boyle found a story that encapsulates so much of the history of US race relations and traverses the major fault lines of early 20th century America. Boyle skillfully blends broader historical context, illuminating biographical details, and a dramatic court case that reads, at times, like a thrilling courtroom drama. I was struck by how many important figures had some some connection to this case (James Weldon Johnson, WEB Du Bois, Clarence Darrow, Reinhold Niebuhr, etc.), which illuminated not only the stark racial divisions of the time, but the broader history of the civil rights movement and the centrality of racial division to the American experience. Equal parts biographical tapestry, incisive social history, and personal tragedy, Arc of Justice is a remarkable accomplishment.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anna Kenny

    An absolute must read!! This captivating novel quickly grabs and holds the readers attention while detailing the truth of American history, of Detroit’s history. I learned so much in this book. It should be a mandatory read for every Michigander.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dori Sabourin

    Acting on behalf of the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson and Walter White hired Clarence Darrow to defend the Sweets. The defense team worked to find cracks in the testimony of the persecution witnesses and the police, who claimed that there wasn't a mob. This crack was accomplished when the two 13 year olds, George Suppus and Ulric Arthur took the stand. Ulric testified that stones were thrown at the Sweets home, resulting in broken windows before the shooting took place. Ossian's telling of his lif Acting on behalf of the NAACP, James Weldon Johnson and Walter White hired Clarence Darrow to defend the Sweets. The defense team worked to find cracks in the testimony of the persecution witnesses and the police, who claimed that there wasn't a mob. This crack was accomplished when the two 13 year olds, George Suppus and Ulric Arthur took the stand. Ulric testified that stones were thrown at the Sweets home, resulting in broken windows before the shooting took place. Ossian's telling of his life story on the stand was relevant because it showed how fear and terror of whites had been instilled in him from an early age causing him to react as he did for self-survival. The first trial was thrown out and the second trial ended with a verdict of not guilty. Unlike in the States, when the Sweets were in France, the French treated them with respect and dignity. This contrast was obvious when Glady's was turned away from an American Hospital in Paris in which Ossian had been a contributor because the other women would not be comfortable sharing a ward with a colored woman. It seems there is no justice in the world when the two people closest to Ossian, twenty-seven years of age, Gladys, and two years old, Iva, who he had fought so hard to assure them of a good home in a prominent neighborhood, died after the trial. Kevin Boyle tells the real life story of the apprehension and terror that Ossian felt, being part of a race with no compassion or understanding of the meaning of inalienable rights: the pursuit of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of all men, being created equal by their Creator and endowed with these rights.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    I thought this was a solid, if unspectacular book about a mostly-forgotten landmark trial concerning civil rights in America. Ossian Sweet was a child of the Jim Crow South at the beginning of the 20th century. After being sent away to be educated up north as a young boy, he ultimately became a doctor and settled in Detroit. He married, had a daughter, and then decided to move in to an all-white neighborhood. That's when the drama begins, as a mob threatened him and his family, leading to a deadl I thought this was a solid, if unspectacular book about a mostly-forgotten landmark trial concerning civil rights in America. Ossian Sweet was a child of the Jim Crow South at the beginning of the 20th century. After being sent away to be educated up north as a young boy, he ultimately became a doctor and settled in Detroit. He married, had a daughter, and then decided to move in to an all-white neighborhood. That's when the drama begins, as a mob threatened him and his family, leading to a deadly confrontation. The trial that ensued caught the attention of the newly-founded NAACP organization, and became a national spectacle. At stake was the right of people of color to live where they chose, and the elimination of restrictive real estate practices. The NAACP convinced the legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, fresh off his famous Scopes Monkey Trial case in Tennessee, to take up the defense of Dr. Sweet and his co-defendants. Darrow was the ultimate free-thinker, choosing to spend his time representing the under-privileged and down-trodden. In the Sweet case he found a perfect platform to make a statement about race relations. The book details the battle lines drawn in the 1920's America. Many blacks had fled north to escape Jim Crow in their native South, but found backlash everywhere. The Ku Klux Klan has set up shop beyond the Mason-Dixon Line and whipped up racial animosity in the northern cities. Stories of angry mobs descending on blacks were common throughout the country. The author's writing is fine but I never felt particularly drawn in by the story or the trial, other than the sections talking about the infinitely fascinating Darrow. But it is a worthwhile book in respect to learning about the state of America in the early part of the century.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tung

    The National Book Award-winning nonfiction account of an African-American doctor (Dr. Ossian Sweet) who moves into a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925, and the murder that occurs as a result of the white mob riot that tries to force out the doctor from the neighborhood. The book traces the history of Sweet and his family, as well as the larger history of segregation and racism that shaped not only Dr. Sweet and his reaction to the mob violence, but also shaped Detroit, the nation, and race r The National Book Award-winning nonfiction account of an African-American doctor (Dr. Ossian Sweet) who moves into a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925, and the murder that occurs as a result of the white mob riot that tries to force out the doctor from the neighborhood. The book traces the history of Sweet and his family, as well as the larger history of segregation and racism that shaped not only Dr. Sweet and his reaction to the mob violence, but also shaped Detroit, the nation, and race relations in 1925. Boyle does a tremendous job of balancing pacing and tension – the first chapter grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. From there, Boyle interweaves the history of African-Americans with the history of Ossian Sweet, and builds up the tension until we get to the Sweet trial, handled by none other than Clarence Darrow. The trial description is gripping in ways that all books that include courtroom scenes should learn from (see Eight Men Out for a counter-example). The book succeeds in explaining the importance of this murder and this trial in the larger context of American racial history; you’ll wonder at the end, as I did, why this case isn’t covered in your typical US History class. A must-read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shirley Freeman

    This was the Michigan Reads book for 2011. While it wasn't always a page-turner, I'm really glad I read it. The author, Kevin Boyle, is an historian with a keen eye for rich detail. He tells the story of Ossian Sweet - a young, talented and ambitious doctor living in Detroit in the mid-1920s. Sweet, the son of slaves, grew up in the south and made his way north during the Great Migration. He completed school, college and medical school before establishing a medical practice in Detroit. He and hi This was the Michigan Reads book for 2011. While it wasn't always a page-turner, I'm really glad I read it. The author, Kevin Boyle, is an historian with a keen eye for rich detail. He tells the story of Ossian Sweet - a young, talented and ambitious doctor living in Detroit in the mid-1920s. Sweet, the son of slaves, grew up in the south and made his way north during the Great Migration. He completed school, college and medical school before establishing a medical practice in Detroit. He and his wife and young daughter didn't want to live in the neighborhoods open to blacks so they took a risk and bought a house in a traditionally white neighborhood. The book tells the story of the subsequent clash, trial, and aftermath of this decision. Clarence Darrow, of Scopes trial fame, became the lead defending attorney for Sweet. Though living in the south could be deadly for blacks in the 1920's, living in the north wasn't all that great either. My eyes were further opened to some of the insidious and underhanded practices that kept people from reaching their full potential. And why do we learn of the Scopes trial in school and hear nothing of Ossian Sweet's situation?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice includes a large amount of backstory. After the precipitating events, he writes what is essentially a biography of Ossian Sweet, the Black Detroit physician who buys a bungalow in a white neighborhood in 1925. He invites several friends and his brothers to stay at the house when a white mob arrives to drive the Sweets out. They are well-armed. Shots are fired from the house, and a white man is killed. All of the occupants of the Sweet house are arrested and put on tr Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice includes a large amount of backstory. After the precipitating events, he writes what is essentially a biography of Ossian Sweet, the Black Detroit physician who buys a bungalow in a white neighborhood in 1925. He invites several friends and his brothers to stay at the house when a white mob arrives to drive the Sweets out. They are well-armed. Shots are fired from the house, and a white man is killed. All of the occupants of the Sweet house are arrested and put on trial for murder. The NAACP sends attorneys, and eventually persuades the famous Clarence Darrow to lead the defense team. The trial is covered in great detail. Actually, all of the information in the book proved useful in understanding the events of the time, but it should have been condensed. It was assumed the reader knew nothing about the racial situation in Detroit before WWII. I'm sure people who don't know much about Detroit race relations will not be reading the book anyway.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rina

    Okay, Shira, I finally read it. And I'm glad I did. Passed the copy you gave me on to a friend who runs Housing Opportunities Made Equal here in town. Interesting on development of housing segregation in tight housing markets and when you know that 30 years later the bulldozed Black Bottom to make Lafayette Park...Where I work now, Over-the-Rhine, is what happens without the bulldozer- a different set of housing battles. Kate- read this- this happened a few blocks from where you grew up. It inclu Okay, Shira, I finally read it. And I'm glad I did. Passed the copy you gave me on to a friend who runs Housing Opportunities Made Equal here in town. Interesting on development of housing segregation in tight housing markets and when you know that 30 years later the bulldozed Black Bottom to make Lafayette Park...Where I work now, Over-the-Rhine, is what happens without the bulldozer- a different set of housing battles. Kate- read this- this happened a few blocks from where you grew up. It includes a whole lot of info on the start of the NAACP Legal Defense fund and all the civil rights names we grew up with but didnt really understand. Includes tidbits on Clarence Darrow and Jo Goman (who I interviewed once for an oral history project in 7th grade) and a history I should have known and didnt.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    This is an important piece of American history and everyone should read about it. Also, there can’t be a more meticulously researched book about the Sweet case than this one. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy this read. I forced myself through the first 100 pages which trace the lives of each relevant historical figure all the way back to their births. It’s all important background, I know, and genuinely does shed light on the motivations of the actors. But it also bogs down the story and I had t This is an important piece of American history and everyone should read about it. Also, there can’t be a more meticulously researched book about the Sweet case than this one. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy this read. I forced myself through the first 100 pages which trace the lives of each relevant historical figure all the way back to their births. It’s all important background, I know, and genuinely does shed light on the motivations of the actors. But it also bogs down the story and I had to force myself to pick up the book again each day. If you’re reading for pleasure only, my advice is to not get wrapped up in trying to remember all the details Boyle lays out. (So hard for Type A’s like me!) Read for themes instead. The story does pick up once the trial begins. Clarence Darrow represented the defendants in this very important Detroit civil rights case.

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