Arc of Justice

Arc of Justice


Kevin Boyle

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Arc of Justice Characters

Ossian Sweet

Ossian Sweet is a Black doctor with a thriving practice in Detroit. He’s married to Gladys, with whom he has a daughter Iva; and he has two younger brothers, Otis and Henryread analysis of Ossian Sweet

Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow is a famous lawyer renowned for his work defending union members and political and social activists. He defends Ossian, Gladys, Otis, and Henry Sweet, John Latting, William Davisread analysis of Clarence Darrow

Walter White

Walter White is James Weldon Johnson’s right-hand man at the NAACP as well as an important figure in the civil rights movement and Harlem Renaissance. By the racial standards of the Jim Crow South… read analysis of Walter White

Frank Murphy

Frank Murphy is the judge who presides over both Sweet trials. As a young lawyer and Democratic Party activist, Murphy wins election to the bench of Detroit’s Recorder’s Court (which is responsible for criminal prosecutions)… read analysis of Frank Murphy

Gladys Sweet

Gladys Sweet is Ossian Sweet’s wife and baby Iva’s mother. She grew up in Detroit, where her stepfather’s career as a popular musician allowed her family the wealth and status to live in… read analysis of Gladys Sweet
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Henry Sweet

Henry Sweet is Ossian and Otis Sweet’s younger brother. Although he is nine years younger and was still a young child when Ossian went north for school, Henry grew up idolizing his oldest brother… read analysis of Henry Sweet

Otis Sweet

Otis Sweet is middle Sweet brother, between Ossian and Henry Sweet. Otis followed Ossian’s example and clawed his way from poverty into the talented tenth through an education at Florida State College and Meharry… read analysis of Otis Sweet

Dora DeVaughn

Dora DeVaughn is Henry Sweet, Sr.’s wife and Ossian, Otis, and Henry Sweet’s mother. The granddaughter of enslaved people Edmund and Gilla DeVaughn, Dora was born in northern Florida while… read analysis of Dora DeVaughn

Henry Sweet, Sr.

Henry Sweet is Dora DeVaughn’s husband and Ossian, Otis, and Henry Sweet’s father. Although his parents had been enslaved in Texas and Alabama, family lore claims that they escaped before the… read analysis of Henry Sweet, Sr.

Iva Sweet

Marguerite Sweet, called Iva by her parents, Ossian and Gladys Sweet, is born in France in 1924. She is still an infant when her family moves into the house on Garland Avenue. She contracts… read analysis of Iva Sweet

John Smith

John Smith is a Polish American Detroit resident from a blue-collar background who runs for mayor in a special election in 1924. He wins by a wide margin, having endeared himself to the same coalition… read analysis of John Smith

Norton Schuknecht

Norton Schuknecht is a detective inspector with the Detroit Police and the commander of the precinct in which the house on Garland Avenue lies. He commands the police force protecting the house on the 8th… read analysis of Norton Schuknecht

Inspector Robert McPherson

Inspector Robert McPherson is the head of the city’s Black Hand Squad, which is charged with policing Detroit’s Italian mob and the predominantly Black neighborhoods. A decorated officer, he nevertheless fails to inform Inspector Nortonread analysis of Inspector Robert McPherson

Julian Perry

Julian Perry is Ossian Sweet’s close friend; he was best man at Ossian’s wedding. Although he offers his help in defending the house on Garland Avenue, he never shows up. Perry is an alumnus… read analysis of Julian Perry

Cecil Rowlette

Cecil Rowlette is a Black lawyer and friend of Julian Perry. He joins Perry and Charles Mahoney to form the first defense team for Ossian, Henry, Otis, and Gladys Sweet, Johnread analysis of Cecil Rowlette

Charles Mahoney

Charles Mahoney is a Black lawyer in Detroit. He grew up the in the only Black family in a small town in Michigan; later, as a lawyer, he establishes a reputation for fighting segregation. He… read analysis of Charles Mahoney

Robert Toms

Robert Toms is the Wayne County Prosecutor at the time of the shooting of Leon Breiner. His family were abolitionists prior to the American Civil War, and he approaches his job with moral uprightness… read analysis of Robert Toms

Thomas Chawke

Thomas Chawke is a white defense lawyer in Detroit who has achieved notoriety for representing members of the mob and for his aggressive defense style. When another case prevents Arthur Garfield Hays from rejoining the… read analysis of Thomas Chawke

James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson becomes the first Black executive secretary of the NAACP in 1920; with his associate Walter White, he brought the Sweet case to national attention as part of an effort to raise… read analysis of James Weldon Johnson

Arthur Garfield Hays

Arthur Garfield Hays is lawyer and friend of Clarence Darrow. Having formerly joined Darrow in the infamous Scopes trial, Hays signs on to help defend Ossian, Gladys, Otis, and Henry Sweetread analysis of Arthur Garfield Hays

Edward Carter

Edward Carter is an established Black doctor in Detroit who becomes one of Ossian Sweet’s mentors. A member of Detroit’s talented tenth, Carter is active in the local NAACP branch; after the trials… read analysis of Edward Carter

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois is a Black sociologist, university professor, and civil rights activist. Born into a free Black community in the American North during the years of Reconstruction, Du Bois received his… read analysis of W. E. B. Du Bois

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr is a priest in Detroit in the early 1920s. The son of German immigrants, he organizes against the Ku Klux Klan’s ascendancy in the 1925 mayoral campaign. His attention to social issues… read analysis of Reinhold Niebuhr

William Sanders Scarborough

William Sanders Scarborough is the president of the AME-founded Black Wilberforce University in the early decades of the 20th century. He exemplifies the idea of the talented tenth. Born into slavery, after the… read analysis of William Sanders Scarborough

William Davis

William Davis is an old friend of Ossian Sweet. A veteran of World War I, by the mid-1920s, Davis has become a federal narcotics officer and has a promising future in this career. He… read analysis of William Davis

Vollington Bristol

Vollington Bristol is a friend of Ossian Sweet’s and a fellow member of the elite, talented tenth of the Black community in Detroit. When he moves into a home in an all-white neighborhood that… read analysis of Vollington Bristol

John Fletcher

John Fletcher is a Black waiter living in Detroit who buys a house in an all-white neighborhood in the summer of 1925. When he attempts to move his family in, a white mob storms the… read analysis of John Fletcher

Fleta Mathies

Fleta Mathies is a recently-arrived Black resident of Detroit who moves from the South as part of the Great Migration in 1925. Her family joins with another in renting an apartment in an all-white neighborhood… read analysis of Fleta Mathies

Alexander Turner

Alexander Turner is a Black doctor in Detroit in the 1920s who is a colleague of Edward Carter and Ossian Sweet. When Turner tries to move his family into a new home in an… read analysis of Alexander Turner

Lester Moll

Lester Moll assists Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Toms in the Sweet trials, along with Ted Kennedy. Moll plays a key role in the pre-trial hearings, calling witnesses to build the state’s case that the… read analysis of Lester Moll

Leon Breiner

Leon Breiner is a car factory foreman who lives in the Garland Avenue neighborhood. In the crowds on the night of September 9, 1925, he’s fatally shot by one of the defenders when the mob… read analysis of Leon Breiner

Ray Dove

Ray Dove is a factory worker who lives in a rented apartment across the street from the Sweets’ house on Garland Avenue with his wife Kathleen Dove and infant daughter. Ray and Kathleen watch the… read analysis of Ray Dove

Eric Houghberg

Erich Houghberg is a young plumber who rents a room in a house next door to Ray and Kathleen Dove and across the street from the Sweets’ house on Garland Avenue. Drawn by the excitement… read analysis of Eric Houghberg

John Latting

John Latting one of Ossian, Henry, and Otis Sweet’s cousins and a fellow student of Henry’s at Wilberforce University. Because he joins the Sweet brothers, Norris Murray, Joe Mack, Charlesread analysis of John Latting

Joe Mack

Joe Mack is the chauffeur Ossian and Gladys Sweet hire around the time they move into their house on Garland Avenue. Along with his friend, Norris Murray, and the rest of the defenders—Ossian, Henryread analysis of Joe Mack

Norris Murray

Norris Murray is a friend of Joe Mack’s and a handyman that Ossian and Gladys Sweet hire to help with their move into the house on Garland Avenue. He is charged with the murder… read analysis of Norris Murray

Hewitt Watson

Hewitt Watson is a friend of Ossian Sweet and an insurance agent at the Black-owned Liberty Life Insurance Company. He volunteers to join Ossian, Otis, and Henry Sweet, John Latting, Joe Mackread analysis of Hewitt Watson

Leonard Morse

Leonard Morse is Hewitt Watson’s friend and colleague. Along with Watson and Charles Washington, he joins Ossian, Henry, and Otis Sweet, John Latting, Joe Mack, Norris Murrayread analysis of Leonard Morse

Charles Washington

Charles Washington is Hewitt Watson and Leonard Morse’s colleague. A Howard University alum like Ossian Sweet, Washington and his colleagues join Ossian, Henry, and Otis Sweet, John Latting, Joe Mackread analysis of Charles Washington

Edmund DeVaughn

Edmund DeVaughn is Ossian Sweet’s great-grandfather. After being born into slavery and transported from South Carolina to Florida in 1820s, Edmund eventually marries fellow enslaved woman Gilla and has seven sons with her, including… read analysis of Edmund DeVaughn

Gilla DeVaughn

Gilla DeVaughn is Ossian Sweet’s great-grandmother. Born into slavery, she marries Edmund DeVaughn and has seven sons with him. Widowed before the start of the American Civil War, Gilla must raise her children alone… read analysis of Gilla DeVaughn

Remus DeVaughn

Remus DeVaughn is one of Edmund and Gilla DeVaughn’s sons. As the father of Dora DeVaughn, he is also Ossian Sweet’s grandfather. Born into slavery, after Emancipation, Remus joins the rest of… read analysis of Remus DeVaughn

Hubburt DeVaughn

Hubburt DeVaughn is Edmund and Gilla DeVaughn’s son Remus DeVaughn’s brother. He is the uncle and great-uncle of Dora DeVaughn and the Sweet brothers Ossian, Henry, and Otis. After the… read analysis of Hubburt DeVaughn

Ossian Hart

Ossian Hart is a member of the Republican Party in Florida during the years of Reconstruction. In the 1872 gubernatorial election, the votes of Black people carry him to the governor’s mansion. Although he… read analysis of Ossian Hart

Fred Rochelle

Fred Rochelle is a young, light-skinned Black man who lives in Bartow, Florida around the turn of the century, working in the phosphate mines there. In 1901, he is accused of raping and murdering a… read analysis of Fred Rochelle

Josephine Goman

Josephine Goman is a Detroit civil rights activist who attends the Sweet trials and becomes a member of Clarence Darrow’s inner circle during his time in the city. A married mother of five, she… read analysis of Josephine Goman

Philip Adler

Philip Adler is a white newspaper reporter for the Detroit News, who happens to be passing through the neighborhood near Garland Avenue on the night of the shooting and thus witnesses some of the… read analysis of Philip Adler
Minor Characters
Ted Kennedy
Ted Kennedy assists Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Toms in the Sweet trials, along with Lester Moll. Kennedy is responsible for interviewing the defendants on the night of the shooting and for collecting testimony from police and witnesses at the scene.
Kathleen Dove
Kathleen Dove is a homemaker who lives with her husband, Ray Dove, and infant daughter across the street from the Sweets’ house on Garland Avenue. She watches the events of September 8 and 9 from her front porch and is a witness for the Prosecution during both Sweet trials.
Edna Butler
Edna Butler is a seamstress and a friend of Gladys Sweet. Along with Serena Rochelle, she ends up trapped at the house on Garland Avenue after dinner on the night of September 8. She testifies for the defense in the later trials.
Serena Rochelle
Serena Rochelle is an interior decorator and friend of Gladys Sweet. Along with Edna Butler, she ends up trapped at the house on Garland Avenue after dinner on the night of September 8. She testifies for the defense in the later trials.
Lucius and Elizabeth Riley
Lucius and Elizabeth Riley are Ossian Sweet’s first patients after he moves to Detroit. Ossian treats Elizabeth’s dislocated jaw, earning loyal clients and many referrals to his fledgling practice. Lucius Riley later tips Ossian off that Ed and Marie Smith are preparing to sell their house on Garland Avenue.
Ed and Marie Smith
Ed and Marie Smith are the couple who sell the house on Garland Avenue to Ossian and Gladys Sweet. Ed is a light-skinned Black man who successfully passes as white.
Harry Monet
Harry Monet is a tire factory worker who lives on Garland Avenue. When Ossian and Gladys purchase a house there, he becomes a member of the Waterworks Neighborhood Improvement Association along with Harold McGlynn and others. He also testifies in both Sweet trials.
Harold McGlynn
Harold McGlynn is an auto plant inspector who lives on Garland Avenue. When Ossian and Gladys purchase a house there, be joins the Waterworks Neighborhood Improvement Association with Harry Monet and others. He testifies in both Sweet trials.
Otto Lemhagen
Otto Lemhagen is Inspector Schuknecht’s brother-in-law. He joins the police monitoring the mob at Ossian Sweet’s house and later, he testifies against the Sweets.