Kata's Reviews > Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

Arc of Justice by Kevin G. Boyle
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's review
Nov 30, 2011

really liked it
Read from December 22, 2011 to January 13, 2012

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 Dr. Sweet, being born the son of a former slave in Florida. Boyle recounts Dr. Sweet's education, falling in love, travelling overseas and then moving to Detroit in 1925. Dr. Sweet was tricked into purchasing a home in Detroit which he thought would be safe for his family. His family, friends and acquaintances were only in the house for 2 nights before Dr. Sweet's companions were forced to shoot in self-defense. The very idea of a crowd closing in on the home makes my hair stand on edge. I cannot imagine the sound of rocks and stones falling ontop of the home. Dr. Sweet was new to the neighborhood and the city but he was very sure of what he would face those first few nights. I cannot imagine thinking such a thing today and yet I'm sure it still happens. Detroit citizens openly threatened Dr. Sweet and his family and yet he had a great deal of courage to defend his home and his integrity. Once the crowds' rocks/stones shattered glass and they began to close in on the house, then and only then, were shots fired. The shots killed one white man and injured another. Dr. Sweet, his wife and the others in the home were held in Detroit's deplorable jail for 82 days.

I don't want to state too much in my review, in the event a reader does not know the story and would like to read the book to learn more about Dr. Sweet and/or the time period.

Being in the legal profession, I cannot write a review for this book without mentioning Clarence Darrow who eventually defended the men on trial. Darrow is one of this nation's most reverent lawyers and I cannot help but adore Boyle's depiction of Darrow's trial tactics and personal lasciviousness. Darrow did not see things in black or white. Nor did Darrow see clear characters of solid good or evil. He truly had a wide scope view and sense of humor until the day he passed away. The day he died, March 13, 1938, his wife, Ruby Hammerstrom states that Clarence maintained that he didn’t care if he went to heaven or hell because he had so many good friends in either place.

American History is dirty with unacceptable actions but the future should be less dirty.

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Reading Progress

12/22/2011 page 88
01/11/2012 page 205
49.4% "I have to remind myself as I read this book that this is not a piece of fiction, but rather a solid conveyance of our history, more specifically the history of civil rights in Detroit. A dark and disturbing part of the 1920's."

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