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Arc of Justice Book Review

Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle

A book review by Kathleen Helbling

I lived a great number of years in the Detroit area and was there in 1968 during the riots.  I had two babies at the time and really didn’t understand what was going on or why.  Years later I began reading as many books as possible about those riots to learn what  I could.  I still believe there is much to know and I am hopeful that a black historian will someday do the research and write a book from the black point of view.

In the books I read there was a passing reference to a white riot in 1925 surrounding the shooting and subsequent several trials of a black family who shot into a crowd and killed a white man.  In Arc of Justice, I am now reading about the 1925 riots and the trials that followed.  It was an amazing story about a black doctor who bought a house in a white neighborhood of Detroit and bought guns for his family when mobs began collecting.  Ossian Sweet felt he had the right to protect his home and family and when a firefight began, a white person in the mob outside was killed.  Sweet’s entire family went to jail. 

Several trials followed, all finding Sweet guilty of murder while neighbors lied about what happened.  Finally, Clarence Darrow arrived to defend him at the Michigan Supreme Court where Sweet was found innocent.  A fascinating narrative that led to the rioting in 1968 in a roundabout way complete with KKK rallies and the NAACP pleas for money to pay lawyers.  Written by a historian, it is a somewhat dry read up until Darrow’s speech recorded for history.