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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,986 Ratings  ·  250 Reviews
An electrifying story of the sensational murder trial that divided a city and ignited the civil rights struggle

In 1925, Detroit was a smoky swirl of jazz and speakeasies, assembly lines and fistfights. The advent of automobiles had brought workers from around the globe to compete for manufacturing jobs, and tensions often flared with the KKK in ascendance and violence risi
ebook, 432 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published January 1st 2004)
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Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: subprime lenders, the big three, anyone who voted for kwame kilpatrick
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 oth
Nancy Oakes
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
Benjamin Israel
Oct 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
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
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Overall, a thoughtful expose into racial tensions within Detroit, MI and elsewhere within the United States during the first quarter of the 20th century. Kevin Boyle's style of writing remains consistently smooth even when transitioning between "academia" style history lessons of the far past, and the more heavily stylized and "dramatic" court scenes involving Clarence Darrow. (The lawyer famously known for the evolutionary "Scopes Trial" of 1925). My only complaint of the book is that at certai ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Oct 23, 2007 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: detroit area residents
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 ...more
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
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 ...more
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Brickey
Jan 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable story about racism, de facto segregation, and how one African American couple confronted the injustice. It is incredibly well written and reads as a novel. Boyle has all the citations to support his story, but his writing should be a lesson to all historians. This is an excellent example of history as storytelling and the story told is one which all should understand: the struggles of African Americans in the 20th century.
Dec 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A stirring account of Detroit in 1920s. If you think that violent racism really only existed in the south then read this book. It will open your eyes as it did mine. Amazing when I think about my grandparents being alive at the time.
Dec 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was asked to read this book and like it. A tall order. It was true that helped and an important part of history.
I just kept thinking that if people were righteous it wouldn't need to be like that. And house debt was introduced in a very historically interesting way.
Aug 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rebecca Dobrinski
In Arc of Justice, Kevin Boyle examines the volatile nature of race relations in early twentieth century Detroit through the lens of the experiences of Dr. Ossian Sweet. The majority of readers are most likely unaware of Dr. Sweet and his life. This narrative provides a unique and personal perspective on race relations and the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan into a northern city, especially when people consider the Klan as a southern affectation.

Boyle took the reader on a literal and figurative
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, what a book! This should be required reading for every middle school student in the state of Michigan and beyond to every state. It will resonate with baby boomers and may sound preachy and pathetic to millennials but regardless it should be required reading.

It speaks to the historical and cultural DNA that is inherent to a greater or lesser degree in every African American, black, negro, (pick your descriptor) man, woman and child today and sadly, so sadly, will continue to be inherent in
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story that has been too soon forgotten. A black doctor moves to Detroit in the early 20th Century from the South, hoping to find a community where he can advance and lead a better life than what would have been possible where he grew up. All goes pretty well, until he decides to move into a white neighborhood. A mob threatens his new home and his family; Violence follows. This journalistic book is thorough and fascinating. Soon famous figures are crowding the stage as a trial reveals much abou ...more
Sandra Ross
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The heart of this story is about a first-generation free black man who, through the sacrifices of his parents, was able to become a physician took place in 1920's Detroit, but it could be taking place right now in 2017 anywhere in America as a new wave of virulent racism, prejudice, and white supremacy sweeps this nation under the alt right rhetoric and "alternative facts" of a new generation of ignorant and fear-mongering groups, who are stron
Lisa Guerard-Cugini
Reads like a prosecutorial (is that a word?) novel. Boyle is a gifted writer. Race relations in America may have come a long way since the 1920s, but it still has a long way to go. An amazing story. I looked up the address on Google, and a plaque stands in front of the Garland Street bungalow that recounts the events of 1925.
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.
Chuck Sherman
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. I'm surprised I've never heard of this story before. It is a great history of Detroit and who we are as a people. A must read.
I really love discovering gems in my reading, particularly in my reading of historical novels, and this book has many gems. Revolving around an event that occurred in Detroit in 1925, this book enhanced my knowledge of the history of both Detroit and Florida, the NAACP, Clarence Darrow, Reinhold Niebuhr, Frank Murphy, and a few other key figures in American history.

This book is about a “colored” doctor’s family that dared to move into a white neighborhood in Detroit in 1925, leading to a mob sce
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 ...more
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this book while I was a grad student and finished it this week, seven or eight years later. Written by Kevin Boyle, a history professor then at Ohio State and published for a popular audience, Arc of Justice won the National Book Award in 2007. Praising its strengths today may be a bit late to the party, but I picked it up again after seeing “Selma,” after months of thinking through the underlying structural issues that lead to Ferguson, to Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, and I think there ...more
David Rogers
Somehow this bit of history has been lost. Clarence Darrow, the radical who was more known for the Scopes Monkey Trial, played an important part in turning back racial injustice. The trial itself seemed like background music to the story the author weaves in and out. This is as much a history lesson as it is a true story of prejudice. A great read.
Apr 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Boyle’s account of a 1925 trial in Detroit involving the shooting of two white men, one fatally, by a group of ten African Americans in a house under siege by a mob is a powerful and important story told with great authority. Dr. Ossian Sweet worked hard against the obstacles of segregation of his southern boyhood to get an education, get to medical school, and establish a professional career for himself. He did this as Jim Crow, led by the Klan, moved to the Midwest and North in the wake of the ...more
Nov 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kevin Boyle's book about race relations in Detroit during the 1920's is heavy with deplorable human behavior. Behavior which today a majority of Americans would find repugnant. Even though it is 90+ years later and America has come a long way in its civil rights and liberties, the reality is that some cities have not evolved much beyond the story told here. America is a melting pot and sometimes we are unequivocally divided in various matters.

Boyle does an excellent job at retelling the life of
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Kevin Gerard Boyle is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University.
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