Winner of the National Book Award
Pulitzer Prize FinalistA New York Times Notable Book of 2004A Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2004
Winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance Book Award
In the Roaring Twenties, neon lit the night, jazz played, and in northern cities glistening new skyscrapers beckoned Negroes worn down by southern terrors. They came with battered bags and hope. Ossian Sweet was among them, carrying his parents' dreams for his future and little else. The grandson of a slave, the young physician arrived alone in Detroit—a smoky swirl of speakeasies and sprawling factories where progress and Henry Ford had pumped competition to fever pitch.
Beginning with the hot summer night in 1925 when Sweet's outraged white neighbors circled his house to drive his family out, Arc of Justice is grand nonfiction storytelling—an epic canvas of dreams deferred and justice compromised, empowered by a triumphant spirit. Historian Kevin Boyle uses the story of Sweet, caught in the grip of history, to explore America in 1925, when the Klan moved north to incite hatred, and a new organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—led by W. E. B. Du Bois and his Talented Tenth—rallied blacks to raise their voices and to begin the march toward equality, dignity, and self-respect.
Boyle captures the streets of Detroit as they were, introducing a gallery of characters from both the white and black communities. He pulls us into the riot that threatened the Sweets' home and the events—following a white neighbor's shooting—that led to the couple's indictments for murder and the ensuing highly politicized police investigation. Using testimonies, court documents, and his own extensive research, Boyle moves from prosecutors to defenders, piecing together the citywide cover-up intended to convict and punish the Sweets, while simultaneously charting the NAACP's defense campaign.
With the opening of the Sweets' trial and the appearance of legal genius Darrow—whose theatrics and fiery passion made him a ferocious defender of the oppressed—Boyle's narrative becomes courtroom drama at its finest. Capturing the tense, often surprising legal battle, Boyle takes us through the intricate face-offs between the wily Darrow and the adept, utterly determined prosecutors, re-creating the scenes that drew the attention of all Americans to the plight of Doctor Sweet and his wife.