Gladys Sweet Quotes in Arc of Justice
No matter how many advantages families along Garland Avenue enjoyed, though, it was always a struggle to hold on. Housing prices had spiraled upward so fearfully the only way a lot of folks could buy a flat or a house was to take on a crippling burden of debt. The massive weight of double mortgages or usurious land contracts threatened to crack family budgets. Men feared the unexpected assault on incomes that at their best barely covered monthly payments […] And now they faced this terrible turn of events: Negroes were moving onto the street, breaking into white man’s territory. News of their arrival meant so many things. A man felt his pride knotted and twisted. Parents feared for the safety of their daughters […] And everyone knew that when the color line was breached, housing values would collapse, spinning downward until Garland Avenue was swallowed into the ghetto and everything was lost.
Then, a woman who lived across the street from Bristol’s house mounted her porch and launched into a harangue. “If you call yourselves men and are afraid to get those niggers out,” she screamed, “we women will move them, you cowards!” That was it. Almost instantaneously the mob began stoning the house. Someone approached the police to ask if they would step aside for five minutes; it wouldn’t take any longer to drive the coloreds away. When the inspector refused to move his men, the mob stoned them too.
The Klan was in the ascendancy; the Negroes’ white allies on the bench had deserted them; the mayor they had helped to elect had endorsed injustice and declared the pursuit of civil rights a threat to peace and liberal democracy. No longer was this simply a question of whether the Sweets were justified in firing into the mob on Garland Avenue. Now the Talented Tenth was locked in combat against segregation itself, battling to preserve some shred of the promise that brought almost a million people out of the South in the previous ten years, to show that the North was different, to prove that there were places in America where Jim Crow would not be allowed to rule. This had become a fight over fundamentals.
Ossian was quoted as saying in late September, “I am willing to stay indefinitely in the cell and be punished. I feel sure by the demonstration made by my people that they have confidence in me as a law-abiding citizen. I denounce the theory of Ku Kluxism and uphold the theory of manhood with a wife and tiny baby to protect.” Tough as nails on the night of the shooting, Gladys became in White’s hands a black Madonna, her arms aching for the child she could not hold. “Though I suffer and am torn loose from my fourteen-month-old baby,” she said, “I feel it is my duty to the womanhood of the race. If I am freed I shall return and live at my home on Garland Avenue.”
When the proceedings resumed at half past nine on Thursday, November 5, the courtroom had been transformed into a tableau of American justice. On a simple bench along one wall sat the eleven defendants, Ossian and Gladys side by side on the far end, exchanging occasional whispers but otherwise watching events with grim-faced concentration. Against the opposite wall sat twelve of their peers—in name if not in fact—arranged in two neat rows of chairs set behind a low railing. Between the two groups in the well of the courtroom stood the representative of the people, the accuser facing the accused as the finest of Anglo-Saxon traditions required, a handsome young white man come to say why eleven Negroes should spend the rest of their lives in prison paying for their crimes.
Ossian didn’t have to testify. No one could have objected to his refusing, so great was the responsibility: if he said the wrong word, put the wrong inflection in his voice, sat in a way that struck the jurors as too casual or too confident, grew rattled under cross-examination, succumbed to a single flash of anger, whatever sympathy Darrow and Hays had won for the defendants could be lost, the entire defense destroyed. But Ossian didn’t refuse. Undoubtedly he agreed out of pride—the intoxicating sense that in the past few weeks he had become the representative of his race and the champion of its rights—and, as always, out of obligation. He would do what his lawyers wanted him to do, what his wife and brothers and friends needed him to do, what his colleagues surely expected him to do. He had no choice, really, but to take the stand.
Ossian’s sense of himself soared with all the acclaim. When the Harlem rally was finished, Walter White dispatched the Sweets on a six-day tour of NAACP branches. The association wanted the couple simply to appear at each venue, say a few words of thanks, and stand by quietly while the association’s director of branches […] appealed for contributions. But whenever Ossian saw the people waiting for him […] he began to hold forth like the luminary everyone said he was […] Although he claimed to be no orator, Ossian “thundered” at his audiences, according to the Chicago Defender, trying to impress them with a mix of exaggeration, self-righteousness, and more than a touch of arrogance.