The thesis of the book entails the accounts of racial tensions that took place in American in the 1920s and the emergence of civil rights movement based on the story of Ossian Sweet. The book depicts the story by a Detroit native, Boyle and how he tells the events of the city’s most major civil rights episodes. The event took place on the night of September of 1925 when the black took up arms in defense of their home from a white mob. The night led to the arrest of some black people hence igniting the Civil Rights Movement. Much of the storyline is shown in the summary of this review. The major arguments characterize the tension, and the “Negroes” fight to have better housing, the supremacy of the white neighborhood and how Whites strive to segregate the people of color though as the author demonstrates, “The cities weren’t segregated in one quick rush. White real estate agents, bankers, and homeowners had begun shaping Chicago’s ghetto in previous decades”.[1]  It also focuses on the nature of justice system in the North in 1925 America.

Summary of the Book

            Arc of Justice is a story about Ossian Sweet, an African-American doctor convicted of murder in the 1920’s. He was born in Florida, and his parents sent him North to get a medical education when was 13 and later in 1921, he moved to Detroit, Michigan where he established a successful medical practice. In 1925, Sweet and his wife, Gladys purchased a home in Detroit. In 1925, he moved in with friends and some family members to help him curb any possible trouble given the existent racial tensions. The rumors about the purchase of the house by the Sweets, a Negro family in Garland Ave characterized a formation of an association that could “keep Garland safe from colored invasion.”[2] During the period, there were series of racial violence across Detroit, and on September 8, the tension in Sweet’s neighborhood was profound and Sweet prepared to defend his home from any invasion. He left his infant daughter to stay back at his wife mother’s home and notified the Detroit police about the situation at hand. During the night, a crowd of 100 and 150 gathered in the neighborhood and the next evening showed a larger group gathering, later stones were thrown towards Sweet’s home, and shots were fired from his house striking a 33-year-old Leon Breine at the back with another man nursing leg injuries.  The six police officers who were there during the event and failed to contain the situation went to Sweet’s house and arrested the eleven occupants. Sweet served a jail term.

            From the summary, the major players in the story as illustrated in the book include the white dominated neighborhood trying to guide Garland Avenue and other urban Detroit from occupations by the black people. The other players the author looked into include Sweet and his friends as well as the Detroit authority, the police force and their role in the racial tensions. From the jail cell, Gladys says, “Though I suffer and am torn loose from my fourteen-month-old baby, I feel it is my duty to the womanhood of my race. If I am freed, I shall return and live at my home on Garland Avenue.”[3]

Review of Sources

            The author’s research is meticulous. He uses historical information that documents the volatile America of the 1920’s to interweave the events that led to the murder, the investigations that the police carried out as well as “the courtroom drama of the trial.”[4] Besides, the author re-creates the inspirational journey of the Sweets from slavery, the Great Migration through the middle class. Besides, the book has a good portion of reference notes, bibliography and subject index among others. The authors carried out the description of the inner-workings of different organizations, the protagonists and antagonists as well as Ossian and Gladys Sweet’s conflicts with various primary and secondary resources and the skill of storytelling. As such, the book is well researched and unbiased.

My Assessment of the Book

            Kevin Boyle’s “Arc of Justice” is among the most elaborate books that give effective descriptions of events. It exhibits the events with fascinating characters of the Harlem Renaissance while covering different aspects of the then American society such as the feuds between Booker T and Du Bois, racially integrated Jazz culture, the creation of the NAACP, the Garvey movement, the lynching of Negroes across the United States and the existent white pogroms against blacks among others.  The book is cogent and provides thorough accounts of the trial of Sweet and the aftermath of civil rights movements. One of the virtues of the story is how the author, Boyle, intensely recreated the menace and energy of Detroit in 1925. The book is relevant as it shows the existent racial tension in Detroit and other parts of the United States as illustrated in the state of the society, “White slummers thought black life exciting because it was ‘primitive’ and vital.”[5] The climax of the book is the trial, and it gives it a basis as it details the analysis of the unfolding history of the American society. Such relevance guarantees my recommendations. Nevertheless, the major problem of the book is the premature nature of the author’s metaphor given the events that have characterized American racial justice since 1925 and as such, race riot was an inappropriate term for such incidents.


Boyle, Kevin. Arc of justice: A saga of race, civil rights, and murder in the Jazz Age. New York: Henry Holt Publishing, 2004.

[1] Boyle, Kevin. Arc of justice: A saga of race, civil rights, and murder in the Jazz Age. New York: Henry Holt Publishing, 2004.

[2] Boyle, Kevin. Arc of justice: A saga of race, civil rights, and murder in the Jazz Age. New York: Henry Holt Publishing, 2004.

[3] ibid

[4] Boyle, Kevin. Arc of justice: A saga of race, civil rights, and murder in the Jazz Age. New York: Henry Holt Publishing, 2004.

[5] ibid

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