A murder case in Detroit lies at the heart of labor scholar Boyle’s wide-ranging examination of race relations early in the 20th century.
One September evening in 1925, physician Ossian Sweet and his young family spent their first night in their new home on Garland Avenue, a previously all-white block four miles east of downtown. The very next evening, a crowd formed across the street from the Sweets’ bungalow, which now sheltered some volunteer defenders. Rocks were thrown, shots were fired from the house, and a white man lay dead. Boyle (History/Ohio State) meticulously tells the story of the Sweets, one family among the many who participated in the grand effort to do away with Jim Crow laws. The ’20s were the decade of the New Negro, the Harlem Renaissance, and the rise of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The KKK’s Invisible Empire spread in response to black militancy, but the NAACP also grew, thanks to remarkable activists like James Weldon Johnson and William White. The Great Migration brought strivers by the thousands from oppression in Dixie to unexpected prejudice in the urban North, including the Motor City. Born and raised in Detroit, Boyle depicts the politics and people of the industrial metropolis, vividly evoking life in the city’s Black Bottom ghetto. He presents a balanced, considered portrait of Sweet, born in rural Florida, a graduate of Wilberforce University and Howard Medical School, and of other players in the drama. Along the way, he establishes an early tension that, after instruction in some African-American history, culminates in a classic courtroom drama starring the Great Defender himself, Clarence Darrow. Told with exemplary care and intelligence, this narrative chronicles inflammatory times in black and white America and pays tribute to those heroes who struggled to get Old Jim Crow where he lived.
The way history should be written. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)