Arc of Justice

Arc of Justice

by

Kevin Boyle

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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 of Black, immigrant, and working-class voters who propelled Frank Murphy to a judgeship in 1923. His opponent enjoys the support of the Ku Klux Klan and capitalizes on nativist sentiment in the city. This allows Smith to cast himself as a hero of the immigrant working-class and civil rights. In the leadup to the regular election of 1925, however, Smith tries to increase his support among the city’s white elite by blaming the summer’s violence on the Black families who moved into all-white neighborhoods. When it becomes clear that his attempts to appeal to nativist voters have failed—the Klan’s candidate exceeds expectations in the city primary—Smith turns back to his initial coalition and regains the support of the wards where Black people live, like Black Bottom. However, when the Klan collapses under scandal, Smith loses his foil and can no longer maintain his coalition. His subsequent political career stalls.

John Smith Quotes in Arc of Justice

The Arc of Justice quotes below are all either spoken by John Smith or refer to John Smith . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
).
Chapter 6 Quotes

All summer long, the Invisible Empire had been trying to “induce Negroes to go into districts populated entirely by persons who would … resent such an invasion,” hoping that […] Detroit would be consumed by racial violence so severe the city government would topple […] Of course, Negroes had a legal right to live wherever they wished. But, insisted Smith, “it does not always do for any man to demand to its fullest the right which the law gives him. Sometimes by doing so he works irremediable harm to himself and his fellows.” In fact, segregation was a social good, and those who dared to challenge it an enemy to their people and their city […] “I shall go further. I believe that any colored person who endangers life and property, simply to gratify his personal pride, is an enemy of his race as well as an incitant of riot and murder.”

Related Characters: John Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Houses
Page Number: 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Ossian Sweet, Gladys Sweet, John Smith
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“Above all I want them to know that they are in a court where the true ideal of justice is constantly sought. A white judge, white lawyers, and twelve white jurymen are sitting in judgment of eleven who are colored black. This alone is enough to make us fervent in our effort to do justice. I want the defendants to know that true justice does not recognize color.”

Related Characters: Frank Murphy, John Smith
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

Not once in the many appearances that the newspapers reported did Smith defend the right of colored families to live wherever they pleased, as he had done during the July disturbances; not once did he criticize banks, insurance companies, builders, and real estate agents for hemming Negroes into Black Bottom, nor did he condemn mobs for assaulting those few who managed to break through its boundaries; not once did he talk about the Sweets, although the story was white-hot as the mayoral campaign was coming to a climax. It was a political silence, given white Detroit’s hostility to Negroes crossing the neighborhood color line, a simple act of omission—and an unrepentant sin of commission in the ongoing construction of a segregated city.

Related Characters: Frank Murphy, John Smith
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

But his message was soothingly soft. He wouldn’t demand that the walls of segregation be brought down, that whites welcome blacks into their neighborhoods, or that they acknowledge Negroes as the brothers they were. Like Johnny Smith before him, he asked for nothing more than tolerance. “I ask you gentlemen in behalf of my clients,” he boomed, “I ask you more than anything else, I ask you in behalf of justice, often maligned and down-trodden, hard to protect and hard to maintain, I ask you in behalf of yourselves, in behalf of our race, to see that no harm comes to them. I ask you gentlemen in the name of the future, the future which will one day solve these sore problems, and the future which is theirs as well as ours, I ask you in the name of the future to do justice in this case.”

Related Characters: Clarence Darrow (speaker), John Smith
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Arc of Justice LitChart as a printable PDF.
Arc of Justice PDF

John Smith Character Timeline in Arc of Justice

The timeline below shows where the character John Smith appears in Arc of Justice. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: White Houses
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...1924, necessitating a special election, the Ku Klux Klan jumps into the political fray. John Smith, a Polish-American Catholic and a former soldier with a fourth-grade education, jumps into the ring,... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The Ku Klux Klan pick an unknown lawyer as their candidate to challenge John Smith. When they fail to get their candidate on the ballot, they must resort to a... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...house sits on busy Charlevoix Avenue, with its streetcar line. The sellers, Ed and Marie Smith, might feel sympathy for the Sweets—Ed is a Black man who passes for white—but they... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Self-Defense, Race, and Ownership Theme Icon
...attack on John Fletcher, they host a rally attended by 10,000 people. But mayor John Smith refuses their attempts at intimidation. The Klan rally provokes a statement from the mayor’s office... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Letter of Your Law
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Liberal mayor John Smith, swept into office with the overwhelming support of Black voters, delivers the worst blow on... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Prodigal Son
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
...the courtroom, the Klan’s unexpectedly strong showing during the October primary election puts mayor John Smith back on the offensive. He makes a dynamic return to ethnic and Black neighborhoods, hammering... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...on the city’s vice and criminality. But his supporters suggest that people who vote for Smith should be tarred and feathered, and they force people to attend their candidates’ rallies at... (full context)
Chapter 9: Prejudice
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
The trial beings against the backdrop of the fierce mayoral campaign, which John Smith has cast as a contest between not himself and his opponent but between the Klan’s... (full context)
Chapter 10: Judgement Day
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...come from the shifting political tides in Detroit, which begin to change when mayor John Smith is inaugurated on the first of the year. Smith appoints a blue-ribbon commission to study... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...in the case. Instead, he pleads for a vision of American equality represented by John Smith’s victory. (full context)
Epilogue: Requiescam
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Progress and Social Change Theme Icon
...to advance civil rights. Thomas Chawke returns to a lucrative career defending mob bosses. John Smith’s promising political career crumbles in the face of the Detroit business and social elite’s coordinated... (full context)
Prejudice, Segregation, and Society Theme Icon
Justice and Civil Rights Theme Icon
Although Detroit’s elite defeat John Smith, they fail to topple Frank Murphy, who becomes mayor of Detroit in 1930 with the... (full context)