Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book with a quote from your favorite author on the cover or Amazon page
Book: Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle
This category was a tricky one: I have a lot of favorite writers, but couldn't seem to find a book any of them had blurbed. Settled on this one because the phrase "arc of justice" is in a well-known quote by Martin Luther King Jr. (although the term did not originate with him). Cut me some slack on the tricky categories!
The book tells the true story of Ossian Sweet, a well-off Black doctor who bought a house in 1925 in a white neighborhood in Detroit. There were warnings that a mob would try to drive them out, so on their second night there, Dr. Sweet and his wife Gladys were accompanied by ten friends and acquaintances, and had an arsenal of guns. An angry crowd of hundreds gathered that night, screaming threats, throwing stones, and threatening to overwhelm the handful of police present. It's not entirely clear who fired the shots into the crowd, killing one person and wounding another, but all 11 people inside the house were charged with murder and conspiracy.
At the joint trial of the 11 defendants, police testified - and got witnesses to testify - that the crowd was just under 30 people (which just happens to be the cutoff number for the legal definition of "mob" for self-defense purposes). There had been public meetings and fliers devoted to to getting the Black family out of the neighborhood, yet somehow none of the witnesses had seen any of that. Dr. Sweet was portrayed as having intentionally "provoked" the violence by moving in. The defense, led by legal luminary Clarence Darrow, put the whole history of segregation and racism on trial, resulting in a hung jury. A retrial for Dr. Sweet's brother Henry (who admitted firing a weapon that night) ended in acquittal, and the remaining 10 cases were dropped.
Being a historian, Kevin Boyle gives us tons on context: about segregation and "redlining," the Great Migration of African-Americans from south to north, the KKK in that era, and more. He also gives the sad aftermath: Gladys Sweet caught tuberculosis in jail, and brought it home to their toddler daughter; both died soon afterward. Dr. Sweet had two more marriages, both ending in divorce, and suffered financial reversals. Thirty years after the mob attack, he died by suicide. The bent the arc of the universe toward justice for those who came after - but never got to live in the house they'd fought so hard for.
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