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

4.5 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805071450
ISBN-10: 0805071458
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

History professor Boyle (The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945–1968) has brilliantly rescued from obscurity a fascinating chapter in American history that had profound implications for the rise of the Civil Rights movement. With a novelist's craft, Boyle opens with a compelling prologue portraying the migration of African-Americans in the 1920s to the industrial cities of the North, where they sought a better life and economic opportunity. This stirring section, with echoes of Dickens's Hard Times, sets the stage for the ordeal of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who moves with his young family to a previously all-white Detroit neighborhood. When the local block association incites a mob to drive Sweet back to the ghetto, he gathers friends and acquaintances to defend his new home with a deadly arsenal. The resulting shooting death of a white man leads to a sensational murder trial, featuring the legendary Clarence Darrow, fresh from the Scopes Monkey trial, defending Sweet, his family and their associates. This popular history, which explores the politics of racism and the internecine battles within the nascent Civil Rights movement, grips right up to the stunning jaw-dropper of an ending. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the steamy summer of 1925, Detroit, like many northern cities, was in the throes of rising tension from racism as native-born whites, immigrants, and blacks, drawn by the flourishing automobile industry, jockeyed for jobs and housing in the teeming metropolis. In the jazz-age era of changing social mores and rising expectations, Dr. Ossian Sweet, grandson of a slave, attempted to move into a working-class white neighborhood. His neighbors, fanned into a panic by avaricious real-estate brokers and the growing presence of the Ku Klux Klan, threaten Sweet and his family with violent eviction. In self-defense, Sweet and his friends arm themselves and end up killing a member of the mob. The murder indictment of Sweet, his wife, and their defenders attracts Clarence Darrow as defense attorney and the newly organized NAACP, which was in the midst of a national campaign against racial restrictions in housing. 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. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805071458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805071450
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By W. E. Horner III on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In the afterward to his brilliant and captivating "Arc of Justice," the story of a pivotal but largely forgotten incident in America's Civil Rights movement in 1925 Detroit, historian Kevin Boyle writes that segregation is so "deeply entrenched" in this country that it can't be uprooted. Even today, he writes, black and white neighborhoods across the United States are "separated by enduring discriminatory practices, racial fears and hatreds, and the casual acceptance by too many people that there is no problem to address."

It's a stunning statement to many, no doubt, yet surprising in its obliqueness: a century of lynchings and race riots following the Civil War are over, having taken a full hundred years to slow to a crawl and then die. But many vestiges of discrimination remain. Because the practice has continued, many of us give no pause to the one singular thriving aspect the black/white conflict, that of racial segregation in our cities and towns. Residential segregation continues to go unchecked because, from the comfort of our living rooms and our front porches, we continue to proudly (but blindly) proclaim that - as some citizens of Detroit in 1925 proclaimed - we harbor no prejudices.

Boyle's meticulous research delves into that problem - the intersection of prejudice and the marketplace and the role that force plays in maintaining the color line, particularly with respect to restrictive covenants in real estate - by examining the story of Ossian and Gladys Sweet, a black doctor and his wife who purchased a home in a white neighborhood in Detroit in the simmering summer of 1925.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kevin Boyle, a history professor, and National Book Award-winning author of "Arc of Justice: A Saga of Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age," has written the best true crime book I have ever read, including Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." A Detroit native, Boyle tells one of the city's most important civil rights episodes - the September night in 1925 when black people took up arms to defend their home from a white mob. His narrative of the sensational murder trial, which ignited the Civil Rights Movement, is electrifying! Boyle's research is meticulous. He interweaves the incidents leading up to the murder, the police investigation, and the courtroom drama of the trial, with history that documents the volatile America of the 1920's. He re-creates the Sweet family's inspirational journey from slavery through the Great Migration to the middle class. "Arc Of Justice" reads like a suspense thriller! I was riveted to the page. I thought I was relatively well informed about the Civil Rights Movement. However, I was amazed at how little I did know, especially about the period before the mid-1950's. I learned so much from this book about the significant and fascinating history of the Great Migration and many of the events which took place afterwards, especially in the North during the 1920's.

"I have always been interested in the colored people. I had lived in America because I wanted to...The ancestors of the Negroes came here because they were captured in Africa and brought to America in slave ships, and had been obliged to toil for three hundred years without reward. When they were finally freed from slavery they were lynched in court and out of court, and driven into mean, squalid outskirts and shanties because they were black....
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Format: Hardcover
Arc of Justice is a superbly crafted book, such good reading that it is hard to put it down. On top of that, the author, a member of the History Department at Ohio State University, is a real scholar, careful with his facts, well-grounded in the scholarly literature of American history, and--this is especially noteworthy--able to show the reader how the story of Ossian Sweet has a larger significance.

In sum, treat yourself to a great read! If this book does not get the most serious consideration possible for the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes, then there is no justice in this world
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Format: Paperback
Kevin Boyle, in Arc of Justice, is very adept at creating a picture of a particular time and place, Detroit in the 1920s, that was the creation of the era that came before it and the harbinger of times to come. In 1925 a man, Ossian Sweet, is on trial for defending his property after moving into a white neighbourhood and he is defended by one of the most controversial men of his times, Clarence Darrow, but within this story are many strands stretching all across the country entangling many other vivid (and vividly portrayed) personalities. The author is amazingly effective in bringing into focus this complex story and the reader will be gripped by this true tale as both the KKK and the NAACP drift by. It is an intense, powerful read that shows, in many ways, how we got to where we are and how we have not gone as far as was once dreamed. That could be just some of Clarence Darrow's pessimism creeping in but it is hard not to be gripped by any encounter with that man, partiularly as well done as the one in this book. A very good piece of history.
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