Dr. Ossian H. Sweet's House
The former residence of Doctor Ossian H. Sweet was the subject of an influential civil rights case in 1925. Dr. Sweet's home was the target of a white mob after Sweet had moved into the predominately white neighborhood of Garland, Detroit. Dr. Sweet moved himself and his family to 2905 Garland after establishing himself as a medical practitioner nearby and wishing to settle in a better living standard than what was available in most African-American neighborhoods. Purchasing the house from a mixed race couple(who were extremely light skinned) Sweet assumed his family would be safe. Even after receiving threats from the white home owners, Sweet decided to move himself into his home in September 1925 Anticipating the angry mob that might form, Sweet came prepared with guns and ammunition along with the enlisted help of several friends to protect themselves and the property. Sweet had called the police but knew they would offer little assistance or protection, they instead stood among the angry mob doing nothing as people started to barrage the house with rocks and threats. Certain of danger, one of the men inside the house fired out of the second story of the house, accidentally killing a white man and wounding another. After these shots were fired, the policed stormed into the house and charged Sweet and his friends with first degree murder. NAACP lawyers took Dr. Sweet's case as an opportunity to showcase the kind of racist violence being exhibited in the North through housing restrictions. Sweet was within his legal right of self-defense when they fired the shots into the mob. The trial of Dr. Sweet ended in a no decision, leading to the individual suits of each person in the house at the time of the angry mob. After in the initial case, Henry Sweet, Ossian's brother was charged not guilty and subsequently all of the charges against the others were dropped.
Backstory and Context
On September 8th, Dr. Sweet, his wife, and nine gun-carrying friends of Sweet’s moved into the home under police escort. The next night, a large crowd of white’s gathered outside of Sweet’s home and began to protest. But this soon escalated as the crowd began to throw rocks and bottles. Even this was not enough, and soon the crowd began to rush the home. Shots were fired from the second story of the house, killing one man and injuring another.
The Detroit police arrested Dr. Sweet and his friends and charged them with first-degree murder. The NAACP the hired Clarence Darrow to defend Dr. Sweet in court, saying that Dr.Sweet was acting in self-defense when the shots were fired. This is the Same Darrow who had argued in defense of the teaching of evolution in school in the Scopes monkey case and as such was America’s most famous lawyer.
After 26 hours of deliberation, the jury returned without a verdict. Judge Frank Murphy, who went on to become governor of Michigan and a member of the Supreme Court, declared a mistrial. Following trials upheld Dr. Sweet and his companions’ right to protect life and property, regardless of race. Today the Ossian Sweet House continues to illustrate the role of "ordinary" places in the extraordinary history of American race relations.Dr. Sweet was reportedly difficult to work with and after his trial the NAACP severed all ties with him and his family. Sweet lost his wife and daughter to tuberculosis by 1928 and eventually committed suicide in 1960