Wednesday, February 07, 2007

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

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age is a book that helps to explain an important chapter in Detroit’s (and the nation’s) civil rights history. Dr. Ossian Sweet, the grandson of slaves and the son of farmers, became an educated man by working his way through schools, struggling to better his status and providing a role model for his younger siblings.

The book begins in 1925 when Dr. Sweet decided to move his wife and baby daughter from the crowded lower east side Detroit black ghetto into an all white neighborhood at Garland and Charlevoix. It was the only way that he and his wife could live in a decent environment.

"He wasn’t looking for trouble”, Dr. Sweet’s brother Otis, a dentist, recalled. “He just wanted to bring up his little girl in good surroundings” And it wasn’t unheard of that a black family should move into a “white neighborhood." But the residents in this neighborhood didn’t want any coloreds contaminating their block. Dr. Sweet knew the risks. Just a few months earlier another black physician had moved into an all white west side neighborhood, a mob invaded the home, moved all the furniture into a van and drove him out of the neighborhood. And the woman who sold him the house told him that she had been warned by a phone caller that if he moved in, she would be killed along with the doctor and the house would be blown up. And so Ossian prepared by asking brothers and friends to come to the house on move-in day to provide security. Throughout the day tensions rose in the neighborhood. The Detroit Police Department regarded the situation grave enough to send officers there day and night

And the neighbors were angry. Hundreds came out at night and loitered. Stones were thrown at the house, windows were broken. The police did nothing but watch. And then, the men inside the house defended themselves and the house. They began shooting. And one white man was killed.

This detailed and insightful book is not a fast read. But it is a rewarding read, offering information about the civil rights struggle and the many men and organizations that were integral to this movement. You will read about Frank Murphy, Clarence Darrow, Reinhold Niebuhr, the NAACP, as well as Henry Ford, the history of Detroit, the great migration to the North. Arc of Justice is a true story that will stay in your mind long after you have finished the last page.


1 comment:

FCL Readers Advisory Team said...

This was a wonderful overview of a turbulent time in American history. It helped me to see conditions from a black man's point of view. The trial and the personality of Clarence Darrow made it an interesting read, too.