One Man's Castle: Clarence Darrow in Defense of the American Dream

One Man's Castle: Clarence Darrow in Defense of the American Dream

by Phyllis Vine
     
 

In this buried chapter of American history, a nearly forgotten case of famed attorney Clarence Darrow comes hauntingly to the surface. In 1925 the NAACP approached Darrow to defend Ossian Sweet — a highly respected black doctor who, after integrating an all-white neighborhood in Detroit, found himself the victim of a community attack. When Sweet and his family

See more details below

Overview

In this buried chapter of American history, a nearly forgotten case of famed attorney Clarence Darrow comes hauntingly to the surface. In 1925 the NAACP approached Darrow to defend Ossian Sweet — a highly respected black doctor who, after integrating an all-white neighborhood in Detroit, found himself the victim of a community attack. When Sweet and his family fought back, they were caught in a melee in which a white man was fatally shot.

The trial that ensued, one of the most urgent and compelling in the nation's history, would test the basic tenets of the American Dream — the right of a man to defend his own home.

Tautly researched and harrowingly reported, One Man's Castle is an "important slice of American legal history and the history of the civil rights" (Kirkus Reviews).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
In this engaging narrative, Vine (Families in Pain) uses the harrowing prosecution of Dr. Ossian Sweet for murder to chronicle the deplorable state of race relations throughout the country in the early decades of the last century. Born in 1894 in the segregated town of Bartow, Fla., Sweet managed to obtain a medical degree, study in Europe and establish himself as a promising member of Detroit's emerging "black bourgeoisie" while still in his late 20s. Having witnessed a lynching as a seven-year-old child, Sweet was anything but naïve about the dangers faced by blacks who tried to cross the racial divide that permeated every aspect of American society during the Jim Crow era. Vine sets the stage for the central courtroom drama by summarizing critical events that shaped the racial climate, which included the release of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, a reinvigorated Ku Klux Klan, rigid segregation and the exodus of Southern blacks to the factories of the North. Aware of these factors, Sweet kept a low profile when buying a house on a mainly white street in Detroit. Nevertheless, a mob assembled within a day and began hurling rocks and racial epithets. Not to be intimidated, Sweet and others in the house fired back at the crowd, killing one man and injuring another. Murder charges followed. Fortunately, the NAACP was able to persuade the renowned Clarence Darrow to take up the defense in 1925. In the end, Vine offers a stark reminder of our history of racial intolerance. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal - Library Journal
Most people associate Clarence Darrow with his defense of evolution in the famous Scopes Monkey trial, popularized in the play and film Inherit the Wind. Not as commonly known is that in 1925, shortly after that trial, Darrow was persuaded by James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP to lead the defense in another high-profile case. The day after moving into a house he had bought in a white Detroit neighborhood, Ossian Sweet, a black doctor, faced a KKK-led mob. In the aftermath, he was arrested for the murder of one of his assailants. While this story has the makings of a powerful legal thriller, it becomes much more in the hands of historian Vine. It is the biography of "an exceptional man" (Sweet), the saga of the black bourgeoisie and the black exodus from the South, the emergence of the NAACP as a force for social justice, and a sociological portrait of Detroit in a racially charged time. More than 30 pages of notes and a lengthy bibliography attest to Vine's diligent research. This is a rare hybrid-an important book that will appeal to both a popular and a scholarly audience. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The exhumation of a long-buried incident in the civil-rights struggle-and a cobwebby corner of the great lawyer Clarence Darrow's career. In the 1920s, writes historian and journalist Vine (Families in Pain, not reviewed), a resurgent Ku Klux Klan made significant inroads into many cities outside the South, its organizers having "carved the country into nine regional markets, franchises of hate" and recruited more than a thousand "kleagles," or salesmen, to spread word of the racist ideology. The Klan made a surprisingly strong showing in Detroit, where, on a hot late-summer day in 1925, a mob besieged the home of an African-American obstetrician named Ossian Sweet, located "in a so-called white neighborhood" whose residents had hitherto merely gawked at the newcomers. In the ensuing fracas, a white man was shot to death, and Sweet was charged with the crime. Enter Clarence Darrow, recruited to defend Sweet through the offices of NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson. The NAACP, writes Vine, "was looking for someone with a reputation that could engender the support of the larger constituency of liberal whites and middle-class blacks," and Darrow was perfect for the job and conducted the defense with his customary high-toned but careful argumentation. Vine places well the Sweet affair in the context of the vicious racial climate of the period, when lynchings were commonplace and racially motivated rioting destroyed several cities, including Tulsa and East St. Louis, and killed hundreds. She is also a thoughtful commentator on the origins of the organized civil-rights movement and the contributions of great leaders such as Johnson and W.E.B. Du Bois. Her account of the trial itself is sometimesa little vague; Darrow may well have "displayed his gifts for romancing jurors," but the reader is left to guess just how at turns. Still, her re-creation of key moments in the trial ably demonstrates just why Darrow merits his ongoing reputation as one of the country's most capable attorneys. An important slice of American legal history and the history of civil rights. Agent: Anne Edelstein/Anne Edelstein Literary Agency

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780066214153
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/30/2004
Pages:
335
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.16(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >