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In the steamy summer of 1925, Detroit, like many northern cities, was in the throes of rising tension from racism as native-born whites, immigrants, and blacks, drawn by the flourishing automobile industry, jockeyed for jobs and housing in the teeming metropolis. In the jazz-age era of changing social mores and rising expectations, Dr. Ossian Sweet, grandson of a slave, attempted to move into a working-class white neighborhood. His neighbors, fanned into a panic by avaricious real-estate brokers and the growing presence of the Ku Klux Klan, threaten Sweet and his family with violent eviction. In self-defense, Sweet and his friends arm themselves and end up killing a member of the mob. The murder indictment of Sweet, his wife, and their defenders attracts Clarence Darrow as defense attorney and the newly organized NAACP, which was in the midst of a national campaign against racial restrictions in housing. 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. --Vanessa Bush Copyright 2004 Booklist
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History professor Boyle (The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968) has brilliantly rescued from obscurity a fascinating chapter in American history that had profound implications for the rise of the Civil Rights movement. With a novelist's craft, Boyle opens with a compelling prologue portraying the migration of African-Americans in the 1920s to the industrial cities of the North, where they sought a better life and economic opportunity. This stirring section, with echoes of Dickens's Hard Times, sets the stage for the ordeal of Dr. Ossian Sweet, who moves with his young family to a previously all-white Detroit neighborhood. When the local block association incites a mob to drive Sweet back to the ghetto, he gathers friends and acquaintances to defend his new home with a deadly arsenal. The resulting shooting death of a white man leads to a sensational murder trial, featuring the legendary Clarence Darrow, fresh from the Scopes Monkey trial, defending Sweet, his family and their associates. 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. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Detroit native Boyle (history, Ohio State Univ.) re-creates the racial thinking and tensions that produced the politics, prosecution, and personal tragedy of People v. Ossian Sweet. The 1925 Michigan murder case tried a black physician for shooting and killing a white man in a mob trying to run him out of the home he and his wife had just bought in a previously all-white neighborhood just outside Detroit. Against images of a 10,000-strong KKK rally on Detroit's west side, Boyle makes the Sweet episode a tableau for U.S. justice and race relations. He sketches the time, the place, and the major players, from Sweet to local politicians in a hot mayoral race to NAACP leaders, who hired legendary trial lawyer Clarence Darrow and cast Sweet as a symbol in a crusade against residential racial segregation. This fact-filled, people-focused, readable work complements the growing literature on race in Detroit (e.g., Phyllis Vine's One Man's Castle: Clarence Darrow and the Defense of the American Dream) and in 20th-century U.S. urban development.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.