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The grandson of a slave, Dr. Ossian Sweet moved his family to an all-white Detroit neighborhood in 1925. When his neighbors attempted to drive him out, Sweet defended himself, resulting in the death of a white man and a murder trial for Sweet. There followed one of the most important (and shockingly unknown) cases in Civil Rights history. Also caught up in the intense courtroom drama were legal giant Clarence Darrow and the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Highly esteemed history professor, author and editor Kevin Boyle was presented with the National Book Award for this stunning literary achievement. Arc of Justice artfully captures a tumultuous period in American history as it tells a shocking story of violence and racial strife.
"Boyle, a history professor, brings immediacy and drama to the social and economic factors that ignited racial violence, provoked the compelling court case, and set in motion the civil rights struggle." (Booklist)
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Anthony Freyberg on 10-26-08
Defending Your Life
This is a beautifully written and highly interesting story of a prominent, black physician and his courageous efforts to defend the lives and property of his family against the virulent and violent racism of Detroit in the early part of the 1920s. It is an amazing and harrowing tale all the more so because it actually happened. This was a very important case which ultimately involved some of this country illustrious legal and political legends; Clarence Darrow, Frank Murphy and Arthur Garfield Hays among them. Its a poignant and powerful story that culminates in a gripping court room drama. The carefully and detailed narrative which serves the story so well for the most part does at times overburden the reader with too much detail. This is especially true in the early chapters of Part 1 and I found myself fast forwarding through a lot of the text hoping to get back to the main story line. That being said, it is indeed an excellent audio book wonderfully narrated by Lizan Mitchell.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Chris on 04-13-09
Kevin Boyle's "Arc of Justice" is a riveting account of the Ossian Sweet case and subsequent trials, which were major events in the very early stages of the civil rights movement. Boyle recounts the events of the couple of days after the Sweets moved into a white Detroit neighborhood; Ossian Sweet's life to that point; the NAACP's involvement in preparing for the trials; and the brilliant performance of Clarence Darrow in both trials.
For the most part, this book was like a novel, which would have had a happy ending if not for the epilogue reminding us that lives of African Americans very rarely ended happily for much of our history. The narrator also did a wonderful job; she sounded like she truly cared about the story. Boyle's descriptions of the Sweets and their friends defending the house, as well as the goings-on outside the house, was edge-of-your-seat intense. He provided plenty of background on everyone involved, which helps the reader get into the story and care about the outcome.
Boyle also did a wonderful job of telling the racial history of Detroit, something students are unlikely to learn in the classroom. In so many ways, this book is a gem.
I have a couple of small complaints that only slightly, if at all, detract from the overall quality of the book. First, I did feel at times that Boyle strayed from the topic. I realize the Sweets were not the sole focus of the book, that the bigger picture of race and the impact of the NAACP were important as well. Still, I thought he occasionally drifted. And the other issue I had was that I thought Boyle fell into a trap that catches many historians -- hyperbole and assumption. I cringe when historians claim to know what someone was thinking at a certain moment some decades ago, and I believe a good story tells itself and doesn't need flowery language to make it interesting.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful