What is a summary of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kevin Boyle's Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, details the famous Ossian Sweet murder trials in Detroit, Michigan, in 1925 and gives a biographical account of all key participants plus discusses the case's role in civil rights.

On September 9, 1925, a mob of hundreds of working-class, white Detroit citizens stormed the house of Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African American who had newly moved into the neighborhood. The mob wanted to drive Sweet out of the neighborhood, and many similar mobs had already driven out many African-American citizens. Police took no actions to divert the mob, leaving Sweet, his family, and friends to fend for themselves. Guns discharged from Sweet's second-story window, leading to the injury of one white man and the death of another. Police stormed Sweet's house, arresting Sweet and 10 others from Sweet's home for first-degree murder. The consequential trial with defense lawyers Clarence Darrow and Aurthur Garfield Hays became famous for its fight against racial segregation in residential areas.

Dr. Sweet had grown up in segregated Bartow, Florida, but had been sent away by his family to attend school and escape segregation. Sweet first moved to Wilberforce, Ohio, where he finished high school and was accepted to Wilberforce University; however, when the scholarship he was offered did not materialize, attracted by the financial prospects of Henry Ford's automobile industry in Detroit, Michigan, Sweet headed to Detroit to work enough during the summers to pay his way through college. He received his bachelor's degree from Wilberforce University and his Doctor of Medicine from what was then called Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C., now called Howard University College of Medicine. Sweet's ambition even led him to pursue his studies as far as Paris and Vienna. Once established as a doctor and married, Sweet and his wife purchased a house in a white, working-class neighborhood. After only the first few days of having moved in, their house is stormed by a mob throwing stones.

Through the support of his defense lawyers and N.A.A.C.P. assistant secretary Walter White, Sweet's first trial ended with a hung jury. At first they feared being unable to finance the second trial, but the defense team attracted so many donations across the country that the legal defense fund is still being offered today. Sweet's second trial resulted in acquittal and victory. The trial did not at first seem to make a huge impact in the overall civil rights battle: Only a short time later, the N.A.A.C.P. lost its case brought before the Supreme Court forbidding residential segregation. However, in 1968, Congress passed an act to ban racial discrimination in home selling and home financing decisions.

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