National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2004The 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.
©2004 Kevin Boyle; (P)2006 Recorded Books LLC
"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." (Publishers Weekly)
"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)
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.
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.
I enjoyed this book and it kept my interest for the most part. There were some parts where I just zoned out. It was a lot of historical information and though pertinent to the overall story, it just got boring at times. But overall, I enjoyed. These are the lessons on life, race and injustice you aren't taught in school. It is honest and important.
The characterization of the primary characters with their aspirations and weaknesses is one of two major reason that the book works so well. The other reason is the relevance of the issue of segregation and redlining areas; this practice still defines far too many American cities.
This book took me forever to complete, but I did. Well read by narrator and historically informative - I feel like I know so much more now about African-American history, from post-civil war through the 1920's. However, at times so many historical sidetracks were taken that it was easy to forget what was going on in the story, some repetition, and ending was abrupt. Not a page turner at all, but highly educational.
This book amazed me; it read like fiction. An excellent source of information on the start of the NAACP and a riveting personal story. Very well narrated.
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